OBU students recently swept a short story writing contest open to high school and college students in Oklahoma's Cleveland, McClain and Pottawatomie counties, with Matt Baker, Andrea Johnson and Andrew Wright named as the college-age finalists in the competition.
Author Tobias Wolff selected Baker as the winner for his story "The List." Johnson's story was titled "Shards of Glass," and Wright's story was titled "The Staff of Ouranos." The students wrote the stories for an Intermediate Fiction Workshop taught by Dr. Brent Newsom, OBU associate professor of English.
Baker is a senior from Muskogee, Okla.; Johnson is a senior from Shawnee, Okla.; and Wright is a freshman from Oklahoma City.
The Pioneer Library System conducted the contest in conjunction with the community reading program "The Big Read," which this year features the novel "Old School" by Wolff. As the winning writer, Baker will be invited to a private reception for Wolff during the author's visit to Oklahoma.
Wolff will give a presentation of his work on the OBU campus on Thursday, April 25, at 11 a.m. in OBU's Geiger Center, rooms 218-220. The presentation is open to the community.
Baker said his story was inspired by one of John Berryman's "Dream Songs," which he read this semester for a poetry class taught by Dr. Benjamin Myers, who serves as Crouch-Mathis professor of literature at OBU.
"The end of poem 325 reads, 'Henry made lists of his surviving friends / and of the vanished on their uncanny errands / and took a deep breath,'" Baker quoted. "I was struck by this image of aging past some of your friends, and tallying everyone up to see who's still around."
Baker said "The List" is about a middle-aged man and his wife who, in the midst of planning their teenage daughter's birthday party, sit down and figure out which of their friends are still alive and which are deceased. The story implies that the couple has worked on the list at least once previously.
"I'm so honored that my story was chosen as the winning entry," Baker said. "I was honored even that Tobias Wolff read it, since he's one of my favorite contemporary writers. That he selected it is really encouraging to me as a writer who wants to do this for a living. I am very excited to meet him in person."