David Wesley Williams
David Wesley Williams has been named the grand-prize winner of the 2015 Memphis Magazine Fiction Contest for his story “Itta Bena Slim.” Readers might know this author better simply as David Williams, sports editor of The Commercial Appeal. When his novel, Long Gone Daddies, came out (John F. Blair, 2013) “the publisher was concerned about David Williams being such a common name and there being other authors with it,” Williams explains. It’s also worth noting that this is the second grand prize for Williams in our fiction contest; his story “Memphis Minnie’s Ashes” took that award in 2002. (In the contest’s 27-year history, two other writers have won the grand prize twice.)
In addition to his novel — which won a Best Regional Fiction Gold Medal in the Independent Publishers Book Awards — his short stories have appeared in Harper Perennial’s Forty Stories collection and in various journals; one will appear in the forthcoming Memphis Noir collection.
“Itta Bena Slim” was inspired by the retired racing greyhounds, Lancelot and Popular, that Williams and his wife Barbara adopted. “They hang out with me every morning while I write my fiction,” says Williams, "before I go to work at the newspaper.” Williams and his wife started going to the races at Southland Gaming. “I was a bit of a snob, figuring dog races were beneath me — ha!” says Williams. “I quickly came to love watching the greyhounds run and trying to describe them on the page.” What he really wrote, however, is a dog-track love story with characters readers won’t soon forget.
Williams has a warm spot for the fiction contest. “It’s dear to my heart,” he says, “the first acknowledgment by someone I wasn’t married to that my writing was worth reading.” His winning story will appear in the May issue of Memphis magazine.
Receiving an honorable mention award in our contest is Abby Rosenthal Johnson, who publishes as Abby Rosenthal. She lived in New York, California, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., and Wyoming before settling in Memphis to teach English and raise a family with her husband, poet Thomas Johnson. Her stories have appeared in many literary magazines, and she is author of Ardor’s Hut, a book of poetry. Regarding her story, “Stall” — which tells of a confused wife and mother whose car is found in a blooming orchard on a spring day — she says, “It’s set in the countryside surrounding Memphis, landscapes I’ve driven through and admired. On a hot spring morning, an orchard or lone country store at a crossroads can seem mysterious and elusive.”
Also receiving an honorable mention award is Elizabeth Posner, for her story “Habibi.” Originally from New York City, Posner grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and her story is inspired by a summer job experience at a Lebanese restaurant in Ridgewood. With a B.A. in philosophy and history from Brandeis University in Boston, Posner moved to Memphis in 2013 to teach Spanish as a Teach for America corps member. She works at Manassas High School and is writing a novel about that experience. She has also produced two plays that were performed at Brandeis.
We congratulate these three winners, and we appreciate all writers who entered the contest. We also extend a big thank-you to our longtime contest cosponsors, Burke’s Book Store and The Booksellers at Laurelwood.