Final judge Sandra Cisneros, award-winner author of the classic, coming-of-age novel The House on Mango Street, wrote that Marsh’s story “stayed with me long after I put it down. The protagonist calls herself ‘a passenger in my body,’ and I too felt I was riding weightlessly on subtle currents, noting everything little and large, especially the unnameable. For its power of perception and its ability to capture that shimmering age between childhood and adulthood, I congratulate this writer. I admired how delicately the writer approached the scene of abuse; so much was exquisitely said by not saying. A beautiful and brave voice.”
Marsh, who is from Glencoe, Illinois, is scheduled to graduate from Carleton College this spring with a major in religion and a minor in French. After her graduation from Carleton, she plans to pursue a Master of Arts in Religion degree at Yale Divinity School and hopes to develop skills for community organizing in faith-based contexts. “From a young age I was drawn to the way fiction can tell us about ourselves in unexpected ways,” said Marsh, who has always loved reading. “Writing has long felt like a comfortable place to process the world around me, but it wasn’t until I began taking creative writing workshops at Carleton that I felt moved to begin pursuing fiction writing in a more devoted way.”
Cisneros also awarded an honorable mention to “Blackberry’s Blues” by Bren Davis, a junior at Ripon College. Cisneros commended Davis for their story’s “succinctness, verbal acrobatics, and poetry. A taut, dreamlike, innovative tale told in astonishing language.” Davis, who is majoring in English and minoring in Women and Gender Studies, said, “Writing in all forms has always been a space of safety for me, and fiction became very important as I grew older because it gave me the opportunity to express my personal feelings and the feelings of others like me in a way that could be appreciated or empathized with.”
“The Associated Colleges of the Midwest commends all the students who submitted stories to the ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest and congratulates Natalie Marsh, Bren Davis, and all the finalists on their achievement,” said Sonya Malunda, President of the ACM. “We are especially grateful to Sandra Cisneros, whose writing and activism have inspired students of all ages, for contributing her immense talent to this process as our final judge.”
Thirty-six stories were entered in the 2021 Nick Adams Contest through the English departments at ACM colleges. David McGlynn, Professor of English at Lawrence University, and Megan Gannon, Associate Professor of English at Ripon College, served as initial faculty readers for the contest, selecting six finalists from which Cisneros selected the winner and honorable mention. The four other stories selected by the faculty judges were “Conservatory (Adj.)” by Lily Lauver from Knox College, “Connective Tissue” by Sarah Lohmann from Knox College, “A View from the Shore” by Ben Short from Grinnell College, and “I Left My Phone” by Samantha Stagg from Grinnell College. Cisneros said the finalists “proved they were all exceptionally good writers, and I hope they will continue their journey on their craft…. Felicidades to all these writers.”
The Nick Adams Short Story Contest carries with it a first prize of $1,000, made possible through a generous gift from an anonymous donor. The competition has been held annually since 1973 by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a consortium of 14 private liberal arts colleges. The ACM consortial office is located in Chicago.