A story of reflection was years in the making, wins award

English professor wins first place in magazine’s fiction contest with short, soft-spoken piece



Story by Katy Macek, Copy Editor

When she started writing her story several years ago, it was a way of reflecting on a trip she had taken to Japan with her husband in the late 1990s.

Last week, that story, “The Walk to Makino,” won UW-Eau Claire English professor Karen Loeb first place in the Wisconsin People and Ideas 2014 fiction contest, which is open to writers across Wisconsin.

Loeb said she has been entering writing contests for many years and won prizes in poetry contests through the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, an organization that she is a part of, as well as through other organizations.

“It was very nice to get that kind of affirmation, that kind of validation that people that I didn’t know were reading my story and that it had risen to the top of the pile,” she said.

While she was happy to have won the contest, she said she was also surprised because she found her story to be a soft-spoken piece and fairly short, just meeting the minimum 2,000 words.

“The Walk to Makino” is about a daughter coming to terms with who her father is, and the conflict is mostly internal.

Loeb said it was encouraging to win, and now she is excited for the summer because she has been thinking of another story she would like to start working on when she has more free time.

She said it’s important for  writers to enter contests like this because writing is a unique thing, and the guidelines allow a lot of room for creativity.

“I would encourage people because you just never know what will strike a judge a certain way,” she said. “This particular judge had some kind of connection with the story that I wrote, and it’s so personal when you’re doing anything like that.”

English professor John Hildebrand, who works alongside Loeb in the English department at Eau Claire, said he was glad to see her win the contest because it reflects on the department at the university.

“I am very happy that she won the award because I think she’s a good writer, and she works hard at that,” he said. “It’s good for all of us who teach creative writing because it reinforces all of this.”

Wisconsin People and Ideas is a magazine that started the fiction contest about 20 years ago, which is out of a bigger organization called Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters, a nationwide organization based in Madison.

Jason Smith, editor for the magazine, coordinated the fiction contest this year and sat as one of the preliminary judges.

The magazine incorporates science with arts and literature, Smith said, because they want to mix different disciplines and promote a broader view of culture.

Smith said the first-tier judges read through every story, choose their favorites and those move on to the lead judge, who this year was Susanna Daniel, a novelist from Florida living in Madison.

There was a timeless aspect to Loeb’s story, Smith said, and even though there wasn’t a lot of action, something about it
really struck him.

“It’s quiet, not a lot happens,” he said. “But there’s so much drama and emotional urgency packed into a simple little trip to the store, that the story just blew me away.”

Daniel also chose a second and third place story, and five more pieces received
honorable mentions.

As the first place winner, Loeb received a $500 cash prize as well as a one-week artist residency at Shake Rag School for Arts and Crafts in Mineral Point, a reading of her piece at the 2014 Wisconsin Book Festival in Madison and publication in the spring 2014 issue of Wisconsin People and Ideas this May.