Harman fiction writing contest winners share provocative horror stories

Maya Demchak-Gottlieb, Editor-In-Chief

Baruch College’s Sidney Harman Writer-In-Residence program celebrated the winners of its fall 2022 fiction writing contest at an event on Dec. 8.

Carmen Maria Machado, the Writer-in-Residence and a bestselling author, selected the winners of the contest after going through a pool of students’ submissions. Students did not write their names on their drafts so Machado may do a “blind reading.”

“It has been my pleasure to read for the Harman student writing prize,” Machado said. “I was deeply impressed with the width and breadth of submissions this year, which ranged from noir to ghost stories and used principles of suspense to horrify and thrill.”

Alexandra Adelina Nita won first place for “Housed In The Flesh,” Brianna Hopson won second place for “Petal,” Mia Viki won third place for “A Good Rope is the Most Useful Tool in Your Kit” and Liz Quickman won runner up for “The Blue Notebook.”

The first place prize was $1,000, the second place prize was $600 and the third place prize was $400. All four honorees read excerpts from their writing at the prize-giving ceremony.

Nita said just creating the piece she submitted was a great experience.

“I’m really proud of it because I enjoyed the act of writing it,” she said. “Of course I see places where I’m like ‘I could have expanded on this more, I could have done more with this,’ but I think just the act of enjoying making art is the most important thing.”

Of the four winners Nita, Viki and Quickman were students in the Harman program.

Nita said she was grateful for being in the Harman class because it made her a stronger and more inspired writer.

“I felt incredibly lucky to be in the Harman class with all of these really creative, talented people and with Carmen Maria Machado as professor,” Nita said.

Nita said the Harman competition and class were valuable forums for Baruch’s artistic students to express themselves and connect with others who share their passion.

“Although Baruch has a reputation as a business school, there are so many creative people on campus,” she said. “I always want to hype other people up.”

At the prize-giving ceremony, Machado introduced each of the winning works before inviting the writers to share excerpts.

She described “In The Flesh” as “a delicious piece of body horror in which the body of the house’s new resident and the house itself become entwined as one.” She added that “Petal” is “an erotic fantasia about the sensuality from plants and the body of lush decaying garden of horrors and delights.”

She also described “A Good Rope is the Most Useful Too in Your Kit” as “a chilling thriller of jealousy and anger in which a professional rock climber finds her tolerance of her chief competitors stretched to a breaking point.” Additionally, she said the “The Blue Notebook” is “an unsettling profile of a bitter bureaucrat noisily investigating the artwork of a dead woman.”

Each winner’s story will be published in its entirety on the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences’ website.

Nita spoke about the layers of ideas she wanted to convey in her story. She said a central theme of the work was isolation.

“One of the ideas is the horror of living in a body in a society that often hates and harms them — especially marginalized bodies, the idea of alienation and wanting to be loved so badly that you’re willing to become the worst version of yourself,” she said.

Each winner used the horror, suspense and thriller genres to tell unique and disquieting stories.

“I like the idea of independent art made by just one person that is weird, flawed, intimate and often very wonderful and meaningful,” Nita said. “I guess that is something that I’m trying to capture in my work. I admire work that is deeply weird, provocative and viscerally intimate — art made by freaks for freaks.”

Editor’s Note: Alexandra Adelina Nita, who is mentioned in the article, is the graphics editor for The Ticker.