Lorian Hemingway

Director and Final Judge
Lorian Hemingway
Photograph by: Tom Corcoran

In 1981 Lorian Hemingway could not have dreamed that the small Key West short story competition she judged would one day become one of America’s most prestigious literary contests. That first year the contest drew 75 entries from Key West and a few other cities in Florida. Lorian called the winner — a struggling Key West writer who had as yet received no recognition for her work— from a pay phone on Little Torch Key. She remembers holding the phone receiver away from her ear after she had delivered the news as the winner screamed, “I can’t believe it! Me? I won? Are you sure? ARE YOU SURE?” When Lorian assured the writer that she had indeed won the woman began to weep.

“I remember that moment as if it were yesterday,” says Lorian. “The pure overflowing joy in her voice, the disbelief slowly becoming real, and when it settled in the tears that came moved me to tears. And there I stood in that pay phone booth, weeping along with this writer whom I had yet to meet, knowing how she felt from my own experience. That writer changed my life forever. She made the competition the labor of love that it became from that moment forward.”

Now, more than three decades later, the competition draws entries from all 50 states and from countries all over the world. Despite the fact that it has become an international competition it remains in its heart and at its very core what it was at its genesis: A contest that honors the uniqueness of a writer’s voice and heart and spirit.

Dr. Rob Merritt

Dr. Rob Merritt
Photo by: Jon Bolt

“We do not go by the rule book,” says Lorian. “We do not go by what is in vogue. You make a typo. So what? You don’t put a comma in the right place. So what? This is not what writing is about. Writing is essentially about the human condition in all its variables, and no rule book can be put to the human condition and how it is expressed. How could it be? So many writers have been rejected because they do not fit a certain mold of what is expected of fiction in any given era. And this, to me, is very sad indeed. The individual voice of each writer carries what he or she wants us to understand about life in all its mutability. We all bear the necessary cross of being human, but it is ultimately our humanity that brings forth the writer in us. It is a beautiful experience to read the entries in our competition. Each entry has its own distinctive merit. So please know that when we read your stories it is with great respect given to each, and that the honor is truly ours.”

Judging the competition is a pleasure and a passion for Lorian, author of three critically acclaimed books: Walking Into The River, Walk On Water and A World Turned Over.

“Reading a story of talent and craft, and knowing that perhaps you can help further the career of a gifted writer, is truly one of the greatest joys,” says Lorian. “Our competition is solely dedicated to recognizing, supporting and honoring the work of the unsung writers whose fiction has not yet reached a larger audience. And I consider it my job to honor the talent of these writers–and if those who enter this competition are compelled to continue to write as a result of receiving the recognition they so deserve, then the world is enriched by their courage and their resounding words.”

To date, the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition has awarded more than $70,000 to writers of merit.