Contest Finalists Announced: 2020 Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction (Updated with Final Results!)

announcing our six finalists, with headshots and congrats message: Dead Weight; Exodus; The Honey Bucket; I'll Be Seeing You: A Black Woman Travels in 2017; The New Pretty; Say You Want to Live and Be Beautiful

It’s time to share the results from Hippocampus Magazine‘s 2020 Remember in November Contest for Creative Nonfiction. This year’s contest drew more than 350 submissions, so so many of which wowed our volunteer reading team. It was truly a pleasure to spend much of our fall reading these selections.

Update for 11/6/2020

Claire O’Brien Named Winner of 2020 Contest for Creative Nonfiction

Claire O’Brien’s essay “Dead Weight” was selected by our guest judge Janna Marlies Maron as the grand prize winner in our 2020 contest.

A Note from Our Judge

“It’s been a privilege to read this year’s contest finalists. I always consider it a sacred honor to receive personal stories, so thank you, Hippocampus, for trusting me with the opportunity, and thank you, writers, for sharing.

Each of these finalists share a special and important story, and selecting a winner was a challenge—the scores are so close! They each should be incredibly proud of their work and the impact it will have on others.

Ultimately “Dead Weight” came out ahead as it is not only fascinating, but exquisitely written. The voice is compassionate, compelling, and expertly conveys the heaviness of the metaphor consistently throughout the piece.” — Janna Marlies Maron

About Our Winner

After 15 years as a forensic expert, Claire O’Brien hung up her crime scene gear to write. Soon she was leading the copywriting team at a major travel brand. Now, when not crafting headlines from her home in Costa Rica, she’s pursuing an MFA at Queens University of Charlotte. “Dead Weight” is part of her larger project, “Tomorrow, We Might Wake Up Dead,” about her career in human identification. Her travel writing has appeared in Wanderful, Go Abroad, Matador Network, RepCo, We See magazine and others.

Claire OBrien



Our original finalist announcement continues here:

Meet Our Finalists

We’re pleased to introduce you to our six finalists. These stories will appear in our November issue, set to go live the afternoon of November 9, 2020, on which we’ll also announce the grand prize winner ($1,000). (We will return to this post and link up these stories once they’ve published.)

“Dead Weight” Claire O’Brien
“Exodus” Darby Shea Williams
“The Honey Bucket” Laura Joyce-Hubbard
“I’ll Be Seeing You: A Black Woman Travels in 2017” DW McKinney
“The New Pretty” Nicole Graev Lipson
“Say You Want to Live and Be Beautiful” Lori Jakiela

Congratulations, all!

Our Guest Judge

We’re thrilled to partner with Janna Marlies Maron, whom many of you may know as founder of Under The Gum Tree, a beautifully designed magazine of creative nonfiction and art. Janna and her UTGT team also organize what has become a much-awaited off-site event each year at the AWP (Association of Writers & Writing Programs) conference: a joint reading with contributors from a handful of CNF literary magazines. Hippo has been honored to be a part of it for the past several years. So, please, big round of applause for our judge… and allow us to introduce Janna:

janna marlies maronJanna Marlies Maron (she/her) is a professional editor with nearly 20 years of experience helping writers to complete their projects and produce the best work possible. Her experience includes time as a magazine editor, college professor, agency editorial direction, and content director for a popular internet brand.

Her life’s work began when she was a kid writing in a spiral bound notebook, and she has since turned an MA in creative writing into a successful career as an editor, publisher, and director of her own business supporting women authors writing nonfiction. She is the founding editor and publisher of Under the Gum Tree, a literary arts magazine publishing creative nonfiction and visual art, and she hosts a private online community for nonfiction writers called More to the Story.

Semifinalists/Honorable Mentions

We’d also like to say congratulations to our six semifinalists. This year, for the first time, we’ve decided to showcase the top 10 stories of the contest rather than only the six finalists. So that means we’ll also share a selection (4) of the semifinalist stories in the contest issue.

  • “Brothers in Arms” by Jessica Ripka
  • “In the River I Saw Him Again” by Catherine Young
  • “Precedent” by Zachary Ostraff
  • “Scars Fist Watch Kiss” by Jonathan Winston Jones
  • “Life Lines” by Jeanette Geraci (honorable mention)
  • “How to Begin” by Susan Meyers (honorable mention)


Additional Recognition

As we read through our more than 350 blind-entry submissions, we first narrowed down our stories to a long list of just shy of 50 entries, and then a few dozen moved on to the short list. This was a challenging process, and we would like to acknowledge these fine writers for making it near the top in this year’s contest. You just might even see a couple of these in future issues of Hippocampus Magazine.

Short Listed Stories

Phillip Arnold, “Alfred and the Axis Mundi”

Megan Brake, “Rape, Revisited”

Paula Brancato, “Back Up, Fuzzy”

Jessica Braun, “Black Alpaca”

Anthony D’Aries, “Memorial Day”

Ruth Dawkins, “Going Home”

Swathi Desai, “I Am Not Your Indian”

Sharon Esterly, “Bizarro World”

Lillie Gardner, “From Here”

Herb Harris, “I Was Expecting a Black Guy”

Porter Huddleston, “What Strange Light the Setting Sun”

Andrea Lynn Koohi, “Ghost Cat”

Dominic Lang, “From Here You Can See Everything”

Hannah Lund, “Borrowed Breaths”

Anna Mackin, “Mud”

Suzanne Roberts, “The Good Time Girl”

Ellie Roscher, “When Now Meets Forever”

Jim Ross, “Nothing New”

Caroline Shannon Karasik, “Fruits of My Labor”

Bassam Sidiki, “On Growth”

Samantha K. Smith, “The Parenting Gamble”

Our Long List

Our long list included all of the stories on the short list above, plus these:

Kathleen Bethell, “Living on the Edge”

Kathleen Bethell, “Buy Me Some Peanuts and Cracker Jack”

Melissa Bowers, “Fragile Shapes”

Maria Ceferatti, “Immovable”

Bobbie Cyphers, “Writing the Ending”

Jackie Domenus, “A Mourner’s Thesaurus”

Sandee Gertz, “Going to Ninevah”

Joyce Hampton, “Leaves”

Angela Mackintosh, “Topless at a Rooftop Pool Party”

Boyer Rickel, “Morgan (a Lyric)”

Kris Rudolph, “The Bagel Queen”

Nicole St. Romain Spradling, “Autism, Middle School, and Letting Go”

Ellen Wilson, “Muscle Memory”

Cindy Zelman, “This Will Be a Love Story



This contest would not have been possible without the efforts of our volunteer reading panel and a few guest readers who came on board for contest season. Gratitude to Abigail, Amy B, Andre, Anthony, Campbell, Danah, David, Denise, Dorothy, Eli, Faith, Jenn, Jodi, Kayti, Kelsey M, Kelsi S, Kevin, Kristen, Lara, Laura, Lauren, Michael, Nancy, Natasha, Pamela, Pietra, Rae, Sarah K G, Sarah P, Steph, Tracy, Vicki, Vonetta, Wendy B, Wendy F, and Whitney.

We can’t wait to share these six finalists and the four bonus stories with you next week!

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