Submissions from Stanford students who entered the inaugural Taube Center for Jewish Studies undergraduate short story contest illustrate the depth, breadth and diversity of the Jewish experience.
The grand prize of $600 was awarded to Stanford sophomore BEATRICE GARRARD for her story, “A Man Without a Watch.” The seed of Garrard’s story comes from a Jewish folktale in which a clever trickster outwits a highwayman. Her prize also includes a one-year mentorship with SARA HOUGHTELING, a writer and lecturer in Continuing Studies
A history major and an avid student of Yiddish literature, Garrard used the contest as an opportunity to reframe a chapter from her working novel into a short story. She has received a Chappell-Lougee Fellowship to research and complete that novel in Lithuania this summer.
MARIE-PIERRE ULLOA, associate director for academic programming and student outreach at the Taube Center, developed the contest to encourage all undergraduates to explore the Jewish experience from a Jewish perspective or from the perspective of another culture.
“Among the many submissions we received, several stood out because of their compelling narrative and velocity, so we decided to award four prizes instead of three,” Ulloa said.
Contestants were asked to write a short story that draws on any aspect of Jewish life, history and culture, and addresses any aspect of the Jewish experience.
Houghteling, who presented the awards a Jewish Studies reception earlier this month, was impressed by the literary quality of the submissions.
“There was a wonderful range,” she said. “A lot of the stories had their foundations in Jewish literature, referring to Isaac Babel or to the teaching of the Talmud, and so there were a lot of echoes between the generations.”
Garrard set her story, “A Man Without a Watch,” in 1913 because during that period “many felt that traditional Jewish life was falling apart in the face of the modern era,” she explained. “I wanted to take the original comic scenario and transpose it into a setting that reflects the anxieties of the time.”
A second prize of $300 was awarded to freshman MAX WEISS for “Kasanov’s Bakery,” a story inspired by his grandfather’s memories of growing up in Boston.
Set in 1948 at the time of the narrator’s bar mitzvah, tensions erupt between narrator and father over whether he will carry on the cultural and professional traditions of his family.
“Max mixes humor and drama with an unerring sense of how to tell a good story,” said Houghteling. “We were delighted to discover that a writer of prose this assured was only a freshman.
Two third-prize awards of $150 each were given to senior ALBERTO HERNANDEZ for his work, “Tefillin,” and to senior KIM LEON for her story, “Babel.”
When asked if there is something specific that makes a story distinctly Jewish, the winners paused to reflect.
“It’s really the voice and the values,” Weiss said. “A lot of the best Jewish stories don’t directly address Judaism at all.”
The Taube Center plans to offer another short story contest next spring.
— BY TANU WAKEFIELD, the Humanities at Stanford