As John Morrell thinks about the Katharine Brush Flash Fiction Contest, the Loomis Chaffee director of Writing Initiatives sees many exciting elements, such as original student writing, the spirit of competition, and a workshop conducted January 31 by English teacher Kat Diaz, a fiction writer.
Behind it all is the inspiration of Katharine Brush herself, a widely read author in the 1920s and ‘30s whose career is preserved in a collection in the Loomis Chaffee Archives and for whom the school’s library was named.
“It is exciting the way the contest uses the archives as a space the students can interact with, to acknowledge and explore her writing and the connection the school has with her,” John said. “Prompts have always come from typescripts and manuscripts of archives we have from Katharine Brush.”
Karen Parsons, who is the school archivist, an associate director of Writing Initiatives, and a history teacher, combs through the writer’s collection and finds what John described as “inspiring jumping-off points.”
When Karen first looked at Katharine Brush’s notebooks six or seven years ago, she saw the notes that the journalist and author took before writing stories, and she noticed the story leads on the first page. “I thought how amazing an opportunity it would be for students to start with a lead or title and finish her story,” Karen said.
The contest also is part of “creating a culture of writing here, creative writing and fun and something that is not an assignment,” Karen added. “This is building community. Students see other students who care about writing and adults in the community who are writers. It’s creating a space for students to pursue original ideas, use their imaginations as well as writing skills, and to create a narrative that is entirely their own.”
Katharine Brush’s portrait also can be an inspiration, Karen said.
Katharine’s son, the late Thomas S. Brush Jr. ’40, chair of the Loomis Chaffee Board of Trustees from 1980 to 1988, donated the naming gift for the Katharine Brush Library. He also donated the nine-foot portrait of Katharine in 1968 that once was in her apartment in New York City and is now on the second floor of the library.
Katharine (1902–1952) herself was a larger-than-life literary figure in her day with best-sellers and novels turned into movies; the “Red-Headed Woman” (1931) starred Jean Harlow, one of the most famous actors of that era. At one point, Katharine was a correspondent for an Ohio newspaper covering the 1925 World Series and the only female reporter in the press corps that year, according to baseballreference.com.
“Students may not choose to dig more deeply into those archives or into Katharine Brush, but it is there on the periphery, and I think just beginning that conversation and opening that door is part of the value of the contest,” John said.
Stories of 1,000 words or fewer may be entered in the sixth annual contest. They must be submitted to Turnitin.com by February 8. There are three prompts from which to choose:
Option 1: “When we first arrived, the curtain had not yet risen on the matinee performance.”
Option 2: “I bought a second-hand typewriter and lugged it home and looked at it.”
Option 3: “I’ve always been lucky; you can see that.”
The quotations were excerpted from Katharine’s transcript of her mostly autobiographical book, This Is on Me. Each submission must use one of those leads as the first line of the story. Pronouns may be changed in any option.
If you pick the typewriter prompt, maybe what you imagine lugging home was a Royal or an Underwood. In the 1920s, both companies churned out typewriters in Hartford, making the city the world's typewriter capital. Could there have been bad blood between the two competing typewriter giants?
Did the curtain ever rise on that matinee performance?
We can see that you have been lucky, but what else can we sense?
Let your imagination take over on any of these three prompts.
For students wishing to submit to Turnitin.com, enroll in the Katharine Brush Flash Fiction contest “class” using the Class ID: 36987198 and the enrollment key: KBFF. All pieces must be submitted as Microsoft Word documents. A panel of judges, comprising writers and teachers of writing from outside the school, will read submissions. Gold, silver, and bronze medals are awarded, and some stories earn honorable mentions for specific aspects of the story. If you have questions, please contact faculty members John Morrell, Karen Parsons, or Zach Grobe.