For nearly a quarter of a century, Stony Brook Southampton has been awarding a $1,000 prize to exceptional undergraduate-level writers of short fiction—and now it’s beginning a new tradition. The first annual Robert Reeves $1,000 Comic Fiction Contest, presented by The Southampton Review (Stony Brook Southampton’s literary journal), is currently in full swing.
The contest has been accepting submissions of short, comic fiction (5,000 words or less) since the first day of September, and though the clock is ticking, aspiring humorists still have time—submissions are open until October 31. Of course, “comic” is a rather broadly defined term, but the contest isn’t looking for anything too specific: “We won’t even try to tell you what we’re looking for. The comic impulse is so widely and variously expressed in fiction that it resists definition. But if your comic muse has led you to a story that you consider a match, throw caution to the wind and send it to us,” assert the contest’s organizers. The contest’s winner, besides receiving the monetary prize, will also be published in The Southampton Review (all finalists will be considered for publication in the journal’s online issues), and will be honored at the Manhattan-based launch of TSR’s spring 2015 issue.
Stony Brook Southampton professor Daniel Menaker, frequent guest of the college’s Writer’s Speak series, former fiction editor of The New Yorker and former executive editor of Random House will judge the competition. Robert Reeves, for whom the contest was named, says of the choice to install Menaker as judge, “You really cannot find a more distinguished editor and writer of fiction, and Dan, with his particular interest in comedy, was truly enthusiastic about this prize. Aside from his longstanding personal interest in humorous writing, he’s also taught it for many years, and maintains a web presence where he solicits comic content and posts work of his own. He was our ideal choice.”
Reeves is the associate provost of Stony Brook Southampton Arts, and the founder of its MFA program in Creative Writing and Literature. No stranger to comic fiction himself, he is the author of the comic novels Doubting Thomas and Peeping Thomas, and tends to inject humor into nearly everything he writes. “If I write something not conspicuously funny, at least to my eyes, it’s an exception,” explains Reeves. “Everyone is wired to see the world a certain way and filter it through their own consciousness, and my default mode is to be funny on the page. This is different from being witty in conversation, but they’re certainly connected in many ways.” Asked where this drive for comedy comes from, he answers, “It’s a certain performance on the page—an interesting challenge for any writer. Some people tend to use the comic impulse as a technique to get at the truths that all fiction aspires to reveal.”
The contest’s reluctant namesake (“I signed off on the prize, and then, in a moment of distraction, the editorial staff of TSR got this past me—ordinarily this is not the sort of thing I would do!”) says that though the university offers a number of writing prizes each year, he’s been considering offering one in conjunction with TSR for some time. “Certainly the guiding spirit of our program is an interest in humor,” says Reeves, “especially among the faculty and visiting writers. In my work with TSR, we also commission literary cartoons, so even that side of things is infused with humor. The tradition goes back to Frank McCourt, who was the funniest among us, and irony is currently the dominant mode of the age, but all fiction carries an element of humor.”
Is “writing funny” harder than straightforward fiction? Take heart, aspiring authors! Reeves assures us that “Humor is not ‘more work’—though all fiction is hard work! To some extent, the distinction between ‘straight fiction’ and comic fiction is just a different perception of the world, and the use of different techniques. If you employ humor in a certain way, it will allow certain effects, but preclude others—if you’re constantly revealing a punchline, for example, it may prevent you from creating long-term effects. In the end it just comes down to different perspectives, and all fiction has the same opportunity to present this access to truth.”
For more information or to submit, please visit thesouthamptonreview.com/submit. Entry fee is $15 per submission.