Announcing the winners and runners-up of the 2021 Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2021 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received over 450 entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each winner will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story.

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Smorzando” by Elane Kim 

“Even now, I know how to make tragedies digestible. Maya is like Eomma in that she likes the stories with happy endings best, so I learn how to offer half-truths, how to angle the light so that the princess waves from her tower. I don’t show her the bound hands, or the curtains, or the audience.”

— Elane Kim, “Smorzando”

Runner-up: “Set of Cards” by Jacqueline Lan

Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “Dear Margot” by Shira Zur

“Autumn was always your favorite; you’d pull out your soft hoodies and sweatpants and sit on the sofa, drinking mint tea with honey in small sips, watching the leaves rustle in the wind outside. I would watch you from the kitchen and think you looked like a portrait waiting to be painted.” 

—Shira Zur, “Dear Margot”

Runner-up: “Footnotes on Chinese-American Girlhoods” by May Hathaway

Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “The Frame Between Us” by Ethan Luk

“The Honda Odyssey ripped through the night, soared on the highway, and suddenly, we were racing against the current of other cars. We shared a secret silently acknowledged: we were together and that was all that mattered.”

— Ethan Luk, “The Frame Between Us”

Runner-Up: “The Liar’s Game” by Sophie Sheumaker

Subscribe to One Story or One Teen Story in print or on your mobile device to read the winners’ stories throughout the year. Our next Teen Writing Contest will take place in fall 2021. 

Support our mission to publish great teen fiction writers by donating or becoming a supporting member

Maaza Mengiste joins One Story

One Story is excited to announce the newest addition to our masthead: Contributing Editor Maaza Mengiste!

Photo: Nina Subin

Maaza Mengiste is the author of The Shadow King, shortlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize, an LA Times Books Prize finalist, and a Best Book of 2019 by New York Times, NPR, Time, Elle, and other publications. Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, her debut novel, was selected by the Guardian as one of the ten best contemporary African books.

Please join us in welcoming Maaza to the team!

Jinwoo Chong and Manuel Gonzales join One Story

One Story is thrilled to announce two new additions to our team: Jinwoo Chong, our new Editorial Assistant, and Manuel Gonzales, our new Contributing Editor.

Jinwoo Chong is an MFA candidate for fiction at Columbia University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in CRAFT, Salamander, Tahoma Literary Review, The Forge, No Contact, and others. He serves as fiction editor for Columbia Journal.

Manuel Gonzales is the author of The Miniature Wife and Other Stories (Riverhead, 2012), winner of the Sue Kaufmann Prize for First Fiction and the John Gardner Prize for Fiction, and the novel, The Regional Office is Under Attack! (Riverhead, 2016), winner of an Alex Award from the YALSA, and he remembers with great excitement, even fourteen years later, the day Hannah Tinti reached out to tell him the editors at One Story would like to publish his story. He currently teaches creative writing and literature at Bennington College and is a core faculty member of the Bennington Writing Seminars. 

Please join us in welcoming Jinwoo and Manuel to the One Story family!

One Story Issue #270: Yohanca Delgado’s “The Rat”

One Story‘s very own Lena Valencia was just as impressed with this story by Yohanca Delgado as I was, so we decided to edit it together. It was great fun to do so, and Lena wrote a fantastic introduction to the story. Here it is! — PR

When outdoor dining opened in New York City in late June, there was a news item making the rounds: Rats, deprived of their usual diet of pizza and bagels during the city’s lockdown, were harassing al fresco diners. Though the idea of a rat scuttling into my $19 grain bowl is horrifying, there was something about the resilience of these creatures that I found amusing, even, dare I say it, inspiring. It was also a reminder that NYC was back, or, rather, had never left: there is no New York City without its vermin, after all.

In “The Rat,” Yohanca Delgado uses the unofficial mascot of NYC to represent a different sort of resilience. Samanta, a down-on-her-luck door-to-door knife saleswoman, is struggling with the loss of her late mother when she meets an eccentric stranger who not only offers to buy enough knives to vault Samanta out of her financial troubles but claims that she can rid her of her grief. If this sounds too good to be true, it is, and this is what Samanta discovers soon after she consents to the stranger’s proposal and finds herself being followed by a rat.

It’s appropriate that this story is coming out around Halloween, a time when many of us revisit our favorite horror films and books. Delgado is an expert at creating unsettling spaces and making the reader squirm with discomfort. And, like the very best horror stories, “The Rat” isn’t just about a monster—in this case a seemingly immortal rat; it’s about embracing those tough, painful feelings that are so tempting to ignore or push away. Much like the persistent rat of this story’s title, they won’t just vanish. They’re a part of you. As Delgado states so aptly in her interview, “nothing evaporates into thin air, nothing disappears forever.” We’re thrilled to share “The Rat” with you.

One Story Receives Whiting Literary Magazine Prize

We are thrilled to announce that One Story is the recipient of a 2020 Whiting Literary Magazine Prize. The $60,000 prize, awarded over the next three years, will be used to build capacity and strengthen One Story’s impact in the lead-up to our twentieth anniversary.

From the judges’ citation: “Over the last two decades, One Story has become a standard-bearer for elegance in magazine publishing; each lithe issue, its design an homage to zine culture, contains a single riveting short story. This form is often likened to the sonnet, being short and perfectible, but the fictions in One Story create sumptuous, almost novelistic worlds. The magazine has assiduously built a warm and vital community of writers and mentors.  Favoring new and untested writers and never publishing the same one twice, One Story is a critical port of arrival.”

The Whiting Literary Magazine Prizes acknowledge, reward, and encourage organizations that actively nurture the writers who tell us, through their art, what is important. Four other journals received the 2020 prize: Conjunctions, Foglifter, Kweli, and Nat. Brut. We are excited to share this honor with them. Read more about the prizes and the winners here.

Save the Date: Our Literary Debutante Ball is on April 30th!

Our annual Literary Debutante Ball celebrates One Story authors who are publishing their first books.

This year, we’re also honoring a past One Story author who has gone on to make a significant contribution to literature and the literary community. The 2020 Distinguished Alum is Celeste Ng, who published with One Story in 2007.

Celeste Ng by Kevin Day Photography

Celeste Ng is the author of two novels, Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.

Her first novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014), was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. It has been translated into over thirty languages.

Celeste’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in September 2017, and is a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #2 best book and Best Fiction book of 2017, and was named a best book of the year by over 25 publications. It was also the winner of the Ohioana Award and the Goodreads Readers Choice Award 2017 in Fiction, and has been published abroad in more than 30 languages.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She graduated from Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, One Story, The Guardian, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

We are also thrilled to present our 2020 Debutantes:

From Left to Right: Chuck Augello, Ayşe Papatya Bucak, & Christina Hammonds Reed

Join us as we toast these three One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year and honor Celeste Ng! The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Thursday, April 30th at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY.  We’ll have live music, dancing, hors d’oeuvres, and specialty cocktails. It is our most important fundraising event of the year. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, February 18th.

Ayşe Papatya Bucak photo credit: Daniel Lateulade

One Story Issue #259: Aamina Ahmad’s “The Red One Who Rocks”

Our new issue was discovered by our very own Lena Valencia, and I had the pleasure of co-editing it with her. Here’s Lena to introduce the story to you! — PR

One of the disorienting things about grief is that though your own world may feel shattered, the outside world doesn’t grieve with you. This is something Aamina Ahmad set out to capture in our newest issue, “The Red One Who Rocks.”

In it, Humair, a widower, accompanies his mother-in-law on a pilgrimage to the Urs in Sehwan, Pakistan, a commemoration of the Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar’s death and union with the divine. To complicate things, Humair is in some ways responsible for his wife’s death. As the festivities unfurl around them, Humair reckons with grief, guilt, and a strange young beggar woman who seems to be following him and his mother-in-law.

Ahmad’s story is one that I’ll always remember reading for the first time. I found it in a stack of submissions on a slow July afternoon and was instantly transported into the thick atmosphere of the train to Sehwan, the hectic celebration of the Urs. It’s a story that wrestles with complex ideas about grief and spirituality, about guilt and recompense. One Story is thrilled to bring you “The Red One Who Rocks.”

To read an interview with author, please visit our website.

One Story Summer Writers Conference 2019 Recap

Last week, we hosted twenty writers at The Old American Can Factory for a week of workshops with instructors Lisa Ko or Will Allison, craft lectures, readings, and panels. Our intrepid interns—Evy Constant, Carly Frederickson, Jacob Maren, and Andrea K. Oh—spent the week documenting the events. Here are their recaps!

Day 1: Welcome

As temperatures climbed into the triple digits outside, we welcomed twenty writers into our home at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn to kick off the 2019 One Story Summer Writers Conference. Students were introduced to the entire team and got to know each other during an hour filled with cocktails and conversations with fellow writers. The classes only last a week at One Story, but many came to realize that the friendships made this week can last a lifetime. —Jacob

Day 2: It’s About Time!

During the first craft lecture of this year’s Summer Writers Conference, One Story’s editor-in-chief Patrick Ryan discussed the importance of economy and time management in writing. Ryan explained that, although writers often attempt to illuminate their character’s experiences by extending scenes and trailing their actions very closely, this can sometimes lead to stagnation in the story’s action—the dreaded “boredom” all writers fear their readers feeling.

Rather than attempting to control everything in every moment of a story, Ryan pointed out that writers must avoid over-choreographing: you must determine what your story is really about, then use that knowledge to figure out which scenes should take up time and which you should compress. Essentially, Ryan explained that “it’s about keeping the reader’s attention where you want the reader’s attention to be.”

Ryan emphasized that this is something all writers do; we all tend to expand scenes unnecessarily because “nobody’s got it figured out. It’s not about trying to be an expert when you’re writing.” Instead of trying to get it perfect the first time, writers should work to incorporate narrative compression into their revision processes. To this point, Ryan shared that his ideal reader—and perhaps to some extent, all of our ideal readers—should be one who suffers from extreme impatience; one who urges us to “spit it out. Get to it!”—Evy 

Day 3: How Does She Do That?

How does she do that? This the question Myla Goldberg posed at the start of yesterday’s craft lecture, a discussion of Lauren Groff’s short story, “L. DeBard and Aliette” from her short story collection Delicate Edible Birds.

During this craft talk, Myla went into a deep analysis of the short story and covered a lot of ground, discussing everything from time to suspense to POV to character building to sex. One of the overarching lessons that Myla presented was how Lauren Groff builds worlds through different perspectives. Groff’s ability to alternate point of views seamlessly, going from a God’s eye view to different close character perspectives, draws us into the world of the story.

In a short Q&A following the talk, Myla addressed the crowd’s questions about her own personal experiences in the literary world. She ended with this piece of advice: “Take ten minutes a day to read over what you’ve been working on.” Our lives might be too busy for us to write every day, but we always have time to interact with and think about our writing despite all the distractions inhabiting the space around us.—Jacob

Day 4: The Vampiric Research Method

During the third craft lecture of this year’s Summer Writers Conference, One Story co-founder Hannah Tinti provided listeners with an abundance of practical tips for getting one’s work out of the slush pile. Her talk guided conference participants through various aspects of the publishing process, such as how to prepare your work for submission, how to decide which magazines or agents to send your work to, and how to handle rejections and acceptances.

She stressed the importance of submitting a manuscript that conforms to industry standards (double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman font) and went over how to write a professional, informative cover letter. She also introduced conference attendees to a variety of anthologies such as Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, all of which can be used as tools for becoming acquainted with different literary magazines and discovering which ones best fit your work. Tinti shared her method of creating different tiers of magazines to send work to as well, making sure you have a variety of different options.

Tinti reminded us that along with submissions often come rejections, but also that many extremely successful books faced a large number of rejections before they were published and praised. She concluded her talk with an important piece of advice: Publication is not what makes you a writer; writing is what makes you a writer.—Evy 

On Wednesday night, One Story co-founder Hannah Tinti talked with Irina Reyn at Community Bookstore about Reyn’s incredible new novel, Mother Country. Their conversation was filled with writing tips and tricks, anecdotes about the creative process, and laughter, ending with an audience Q&A that (surprisingly) included vampires!

“I operate on what I call ‘vampiric research,’” Reyn told the crowd, “which is that I’m only sucking the blood that I need. You’re only using what you need, and you’re not getting distracted by things you don’t need. So, in other words, you’re only using the things in service of the story you want to tell.” —Andrea

Day 5: Writerly Self-Compassion

On Thursday’s craft lecture, Rakesh Satyal drew on anecdotes from his vibrant literary career to advise our summer conference participants as both a fellow writer and as an editor. Above all was his desire to see them—to see all writers, really—develop their writing lives. Satyal emphasized that one needs to be intentional about one’s writing life, highlighting the importance of dedicating time to writing. This, however, was not to say that writing must, or even should, happen every day; in his words, “You have to identify for yourself what feels productive. You know when you’re doing the work.” Later, Satyal discussed the need for writers to allow themselves the space to think on a macro level, to have a sense of the larger ideas or themes they’re writing towards. “Be a good literary citizen,” he said, which, at its core, means treating writing as a legitimate and necessary profession. Up-and-coming writers, he said, can practice good literary citizenship by paying attention to what’s happening in the “literary world,” talking with others about their own writing and buying of books, and, instead of trying to emulate prominent authors, working on honing/owning their unique perspectives. Of perhaps the most importance, though, was his view on writerly self-compassion: “Let yourself know when you’ve done good work.” —Carly 

Day 6: Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To

For the final craft lecture of our Summer Conference, our very own Ann Napolitano discussed the importance of writers living in service of their work. In the first of three sections, titled “Paying Attention,” Napolitano centered on the need for writers to pay attention to the things that hold their interest—namely, inexplicable obsessions that lodge themselves deep in their brains. Drawing on David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish, Napolitano explored the idea of the “internal magnet,” which she defined as certain ideas “sticking” to one’s subconscious in the same way magnets stick to a refrigerator door. There is often no discernible rhyme or reason for a particular idea to stick around, she said; something inside you decides, and one’s job as a writer is to lean into the resulting obsession with intention. “Your calibrating magnet is the you of you,” Napolitano said, and listening to it can lead to your best work. In her second section, called “The Inside Job,” Napolitano emphasized the need for writers to turn away from their end goal(s), instead focusing only on the work at hand. Through writing for oneself (instead of for external validation) and, as Rakesh Satyal spoke about in his lecture, having self-compassion, writers will, hopefully, realize that they have agency in choosing where their thoughts go. In turn, this could help writers to experience more mental clarity when writing. For her final section, “The Practical Side,” Napolitano gave practical advice on how to develop one’s writing life with intention and mindfulness, including a list of different lifestyle choices one can use to aid in the development of a regular writing practice. Quoting Annie Dillard, Napolitano said that “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” One’s writing—as well as one’s quality of life—improves when treated seriously. —Carly 

The One Storys Summer Writers Conference ended with memorable readings from all of our students and jokes from the One Story instructors and staff. Tears might have been shed. It has been a pleasure to talk with each and every writer who attended this week-long conference and helped create such a generative, supportive space. We hope your time with us was meaningful and that you created life-long literary friends.

As a parting gift for our fellow writers, some final words from Hannah Tinti: “Your writing is not you. It’s something you have done.”—Andrea

Issue #253: Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray”

Back when I was at Granta, I had the pleasure of being the first person ever to publish Lillian Li. Later, I was thrilled to finally hold in my hands her debut novel, Number One Chinese Restaurant, and I was thrilled when more of her work landed on my desk at One Story. Our omni-wonderful managing editor Lena Valencia worked on the story with Lillian, and their mutual enthusiasm for this deceptively quiet (and tense) piece of writing turned it into our brilliant new issue. Here’s Lena to introduce you to “Coach Ray.” — PR

On the annual St. Joe’s Prep cross-country team retreat at a Vermont summer camp, Coach Raymond Dockett is intent on helping the newest member, Oliver, see his potential as a runner. But it seems that Oliver doesn’t need Coach Ray’s assistance. In fact, Oliver seems to be doing everything he can to thwart Coach Ray’s attempts to help him. And the more Oliver resists Coach Ray’s help, the angrier Coach Ray gets.

There is no triumph of the underdog in this sports narrative, no good-hearted coach leading a scrappy nobody to victory. Instead, “Coach Ray” deals with something far more complicated: the power dynamics of mentorship. In writing this story, Lillian Li wanted to “look at how people abuse their power without realizing it.” As I found myself drawn deeper into the struggle between Coach Ray and Oliver, it became less and less clear who I should be rooting for.

“Coach Ray” is a disconcerting portrait of a flawed character. It’s also funny and formally inventive. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cringe in the best way. It’s morally ambiguous: regardless of who makes it to the finish line first, there are no easy answers as to who wins at the end. I’m thrilled to introduce you to Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray.”

To read an interview with Lillian Li, please visit our website.

Goodbye, My Darling…

The One Story Literary Debutante Ball is on Thursday, May 4th. This is our most important fundraiser of the year! All proceeds from ticket sales and donations that night help keep our doors open and support our mission: to celebrate the art form of the short story and support the authors who write them, through publication, education, community and mentorship.

This year, playing off the “Kill your darlings” adage, we’ve asked authors to choose a piece of text that has been cut from their work and annotate it with a handwritten goodbye note, in the form of a “Dear John” letter. We’ve been amazed at the creative ways that writers have taken to this challenge, sharing hilarious and moving anecdotes and all the different ways they’ve learned to say “Goodbye, Darling.”

These Darlings will be framed and available for sale at our Debutante Ball on Thursday, May 16th. Now YOU can own a piece of writing by one of your favorite writers that NO ONE ELSE has! All proceeds are tax-deductible and support your favorite non-profit literary organization.


Special thanks to all the authors who contributed pages to Goodbye, My Darling, including: Andrew Sean Greer, Meg Wolitzer, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard, Ann Patchett, Darin Strauss, Nathan Englander, Kelly Link, Myla Goldberg, Hannah Tinti, Ann Napolitano, Patrick Ryan, Helen Ellis, Mira Jacob, Marie-Helene Bertino, Daniel Wallace, Tommy Orange and Kate Gray.

Pictured above: Darlings by Meg Wolitzer, Hannah Tinti, and Marie-Helene Bertino.