Announcing the Seventh Annual Observer Short Story Contest

We're now taking submissions for our seventh annual short story contest.


David Duhr
Deb Olin Unferth
Deb Olin Unferth will judge the seventh annual contest.

“A situation under pressure” is an apt way to describe the United States in 2017. Blue or red, we’re all feeling the pressure these days.

Writing fiction can serve as an outlet, a way for a writer to let off some of the steam building up within and without. And, perhaps not coincidentally, “a situation under pressure” is exactly what would please the guest judge of the seventh-annual Texas Observer short story contest, which is now open for entries.

Head over to the submission page for full guidelines and to enter by Monday, August 21.

Deb Olin Unferth is a creative writing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, and the author of four books. Her most recent story collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance (Graywolf, 2017), was called “rich with surprises, small and large” by the New York Times and “a fascinating must-read” by Newsweek.

When asked what she would like to see in our winning story, Unferth says, “In short fiction I look for a voice that feels original, clear and urgent, and for a situation under pressure. My favorite stories make me see the world differently for a moment, they make me laugh and break my heart. They stun me with their use of language. They ask big questions, sometimes in the smallest spaces. Like life, in a good story there are no simple solutions or clichés.” 

So take that to the bank, writers! Which is a good example of the kind of cliché you should avoid.

As always, the winning writer takes home a check for $1,000, and his or her story will appear in our October issue and online. Finalists may be eligible for online publication. 

The contest is open to Texans and non-Texans alike, with no restrictions on genre or theme. Texas settings are welcome, but by no means required.

Our past winners have written stories that take place all over the world. They’ve also gone on to exciting things in art and literature.

Brian Allen Carr, our inaugural winner with “The Last Henley” (guest judge: Larry McMurtry), has a new novel, Sip, coming out with SoHo Press in August. Kirkus Reviews calls it “a post-apocalyptic sci-fi Western” set in “the precisely realized landscape of southern Texas.”

Sophomore winner Larina Lavergne (“Water Birth,” Heidi Durrow) has an agented novel making the rounds and founded Riding Up Front, an art blog gallery created to support immigrant rights.

Ashley Perez (“3:17,” Dagoberto Gilb) teaches world literatures at Ohio State University. Her most recent novel, Out of Darkness, which “3:17” was excerpted from, was recently included in Booklist’s “50 Best YA Novels of All Time,” and won the 2016 Americas Award and the 2016 Tomas Rivera Book Award at Texas State University.

Since winning the 2014 contest with “Fuzhou Nighttime Feeling” (Elizabeth McCracken), Ling Ma has sold a novel to FSG (working title: Severance), with a 2018 pub date, and this fall will be teaching creative writing at the University of Chicago.

2015’s winner, Simon Han (“Three Phone Calls,” Stephen Graham Jones), is working on a novel as well, and has recently published work at Guernica.

We haven’t heard recently from last year’s winner, Ben Reed (“My Neighbor the Pilot,” Amelia Gray). We assume he’s still celebrating.

Maybe this will be your year to celebrate? It just might help ease some of the pressure.