When Pasatiempo calls for submissions to its annual writing contest, we never know what we’re going to get. We don’t issue a theme; we ask only for your best writing on any topic — entered as fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Usually, the writers are from Santa Fe, but sometimes they enter from around the state or even, as in the case of this year’s winning poem, from outside of New Mexico.
This year, about 150 people allowed a team of volunteer judges (reporters, editors, and graphic designers from The New Mexican) to read their submissions. As usual, the process wasn’t easy. How does one evaluate a story about a man who turns into a moth against one in which a woman longs for the comfort of religious tradition and ritual? Can an anecdote about meeting a beloved old movie actor at a Santa Fe bar be compared to a road trip story in which a woman revisits her birthplace in Southern New Mexico? Every entry was worthy of consideration as we waited to be transported by your imaginations. We might be sucked in by a quirky yet darkly poetic voice, an evocative description of another world, or the clever rhymes and earnest patriotism in a poem about horses.
Themes that emerged in 2019 included personal transformation, memory, environmental concerns, and family issues. Of the first-place winner in the adult fiction category, a judge observed the author’s “lovely way with language” and said the writing is reminiscent of an Anne Tyler novel. A judge for the adult poetry category lauded the author of the winning poem for the strength of her imagery of natural phenomenon, the way it draws parallels to the human voice, “and the sense of transience and longing she evokes.” Judges for the adult nonfiction category were impressed by the overall quality of the entries. As usual, nonfiction essays reveled in local color and history, offering insider and outsider perspectives on the City Different and the Land of Enchantment.
Children and teens wrote about animals, creativity, family, history, nature, and more, impressing us with their energy and vision. There was even a murder mystery among the winners. There were some truly surprising turns of phrase and a few key lines that will likely resonate with readers long after they close these pages.
Said an enthralled judge for the teen prose category: “The overall aftertaste was existential.” ◀