Above: Carling McQuinn of Macalester College won the 51st annual ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest for her story “Phantom.”
“Phantom” by Carling McQuinn, a second-year student at Macalester College, has been selected as the winning story in the 51st annual ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest.
“This story really moved me,” said final judge Lan Samantha Chang, award-winning author and director of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “Luna’s observations of her beloved sister Sophie’s struggle with anorexia are skillfully detailed. The story unflinchingly renders the claustrophobia and pain of family love.”
McQuinn, who is from Austin, Texas, is pursuing an English major and minors in French and economics. “I’ve been writing stories since I learned how to use a pencil,” she said. “I’ve also been an avid reader my whole life; if I’m in the middle of a really good book, I find it hard to go back to the real world when I put it down. It’s always been my dream to write stories that provide readers with the escape that all my favorite books have given me.”
McQuinn noted, “Macalester’s English classes have introduced me to many new books I wouldn’t have otherwise reached for. They’ve also helped me hone my writing in both academic and creative settings; I’ve learned to think critically about texts in an entirely different way. The creative writing classes that I’ve taken so far have also been fantastic, and the feedback I’ve gotten in workshops has helped me grow as a writer.”
In addition to the winning story, Chang selected two of the finalist stories for honorable mention: “Singles’ Night” by Claire Dietz from Knox College and “Warmth” by Eve Henley-Rayve from Beloit College.
Praising “Singles’ Night,” Chang wrote, “I love this heart-wrenching and funny story about the restrictions that challenge Clementine’s love for Meredith in a confined but lively community of eagle-eyed seniors.”
Dietz is a third-year Spanish and creative writing major from Birmingham, Michigan. “I grew up loving to read and had always been curious about writing so I could create exactly the sort of stories I wanted to read,” said Dietz. On the value of her education of Knox, she explained, “It has been wonderful to be surrounded by a community of creative writers. Whether it’s for a class or not, I know I can always find someone to give feedback on my work. Everyone is so encouraging and engaged with the creative process, it is very inspiring. Furthermore, my institution has given me the space to broaden the types of stories I tell.”
Chang described Henley-Rayve’s “Warmth” as “lyrically written and genuinely frightening” and said the story “combines ghostly revenge and spiritual searching.”
Henley-Rayve, who is from Los Angeles, California, will be graduating from Beloit with majors in literary studies and creative writing and a minor in journalism.
“I started writing really in middle school, kind of as an outlet for all those preteen emotions I wasn’t sure how to process yet,” Henley-Rayve explained. “I really learned how to sort my emotions through making up these extremes in fiction, and I’ve stuck with it ever since.” Reflecting on her development as a writer at Beloit, she shared, “I’ve definitely been pushed to write more, and longer. I think one of the big things I’ve taken away was that if I was ever in the mood to write, I should do it right then. This is how I’ve written some of my best work.” After graduating from Beloit, Henley-Rayve hopes to eventually enroll in graduate school for creative writing. In the meantime, she plans to begin writing a novel and continue submitting her work to literary magazines and writing contests.
Thirty-five stories were entered in the 2023 Nick Adams Contest through the English departments on ACM campuses, with each campus allowed to enter up to four stories in the competition. Chuck Lewis, Professor of English and Director of the Writing Program at Beloit College, and Ben Farrer, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Knox College, served as initial faculty readers for the contest, selecting six finalists from which Chang chose the winner and honorable mentions. The three other stories selected by the faculty judges were “Soft Machines” by November Brown from Grinnell College, “Community Theater” by CJ Johnson from Knox College, and “Dragons” by Crystal Yang from Beloit College. “Honestly, all six were strong pieces,” noted Chang.
“The ACM congratulates winner Carling McQuinn, honorable mentions Claire Dietz and Eve Henley-Rayve, and all of this year’s finalists. We wish them continued success in their writing careers and look forward to seeing what they accomplish next,” said Sonya Malunda, President of the ACM. “We are grateful to final judge Lan Samantha Chang and faculty judges Lewis and Farrer for supporting ACM student writers through this contest.”
The Nick Adams Short Story Contest has been held annually since 1973 by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest, a consortium of 14 private liberal arts colleges. The competition awards a first prize of $1,000, established through funds from an anonymous donor to encourage fiction writing at ACM colleges. The ACM consortial office is located in Chicago.