Chicago author Bill Hillman described Nelson Ogbuagu’s short story as “a psychological thriller and a coming of age tale of an introspective and sensitive youth” that “works on a lot of levels.”
Hillman, who served as the final judge for the 2016 ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest, awarded first prize to Ogbuagu for “Playing It Safe,” praising it as “thought provoking” and “an important story and perspective.”
A senior at Grinnell College who is majoring in economics, Ogbuagu said that he has always been attracted to artistic forms of expression, with creative writing coming to the fore as he grew into his teenage years. In high school he dove into journalism — as both arts and entertainment editor and sports editor, plus writing a lot of articles – and discovered the powerful medium of slam poetry.
His interest in short stories was sparked by two creative writing courses he took at Grinnell with English professor Dean Bakopoulos.
“His mentorship, teaching, feedback, and general support as I developed in his classes and outside of them not only made me a better storyteller through writing, but also encouraged a type of self-exploration that made me believe that I had meaningful stories to tell,” Ogbuagu said.
Read the 2016 winning story!
Playing It Safe
by Nelson Ogbuago
The courses are heavily workshop-style based, with all the students reading each other’s work and giving extensive comments in class discussions. “After all of that feedback, we’d go and make a revision that was very deep, very heavy,” said Ogbuagu. “You really get a very sharp sense as to the different ideas that different types of writers have for the directions you can go with a story. It really informed how I could take a certain experience and craft it in a way that I hadn’t originally considered.”
Ogbuagu is graduating this spring and has a job lined up with LinkedIn in California this fall. He’s planning a summer filled with travel — possible inspiration for future short stories? — and developing an idea he has for a podcast series aimed at young people.
“I’ve always thought there was power in sharing the experience and trying to help ‘level up’ someone younger than you to kind of motivate them,” he said, “I know for me that was invaluable in my experience and my successes over the past four years.”
Looking further ahead, Ogbuagu plans to keep on writing and possibly going on to an MFA program at some point.
Now in its 44th year, the Nick Adams Contest was established to encourage fiction writing at ACM colleges. A $1,000 cash prize for the winner each year was established with funds from an anonymous donor.
In addition to awarding the first prize, Hillmann gave honorable mention recognition to three stories in this year’s contest. Find out more about the authors and read their stories:
- Grace Lloyd, senior, Grinnell College, “Crush”
- Kiki Sykes, senior, St. Olaf College, “On Dying and Bereavement”
- Claire Tollesfsrud, Coe College, “The Dancing Girl Next Door”
- Nick Adams Short Story Contest
- 2016 winning story: “Playing It Safe” by Nelson Ogbuagu
- 2016 final judge: Bill Hillmann