And the Winners Are (Updated)

Five months ago we challenged you to share your stories with us by writing into four powerful prompts: Death, Reentry, Work, and Space. Those prompts represented themes that were top-of-mind for a world in transition. Your 9,000-plus stories were incredibly transparent; the vulnerability on display made for hours of satisfying reading.

Judge Susan Orlean said, “The range of subjects and the variety of tone was exciting. It was a really strong group of contenders.”

The winner of the grand prize and death prompt is, “Keeper of the Place,” by first-time Medium writer Randi Ragan. Randi writes about her 74-year-old grandmother, who had undiagnosed bipolar disorder and died by suicide after the death of her daughter, Randi’s mother.

Her opening paragraph is chilling. [sensitive content below]

“My Grandmother Mamie killed herself when she was 74 years old. She drove my mother’s car onto some railroad tracks in the middle of nowhere out toward Abilene and then set a fire in the trunk before shooting herself in the side of the head.”

“The imagery is so vivid and unique as are the characters throughout,” says Medium staff judge Amy Shearn. “The different layers of the piece give it serious narrative heft. And the way it’s structured is a master class.”

With over 3,500 entries, Death was the dominant prompt. There were similar types of losses running through the topic. In addition to the passing of grandparents, essays about the death of spouses and pets were also recurring themes. There were several symbolic takes on death, specifically around changes in habits.

The winning essay in the Reentry prompt, “The Hope that Holds You Back,” puts the reader in the skin of a writer suffering from postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). Writer Sarah Hawthorne’s body was failing her, yet she found it difficult to accept the disabled tag. Her entry is a great read about a writer’s fight for independence and hopefully inspires those who are disabled to find the joy in life as you are versus the utopian cured state that may not come.

Longtime Medium writer Hal H. Harris, who wrote to all four prompts, won the Work category with his essay “Black Personhood Does Not Have Equitable Access to the Work of Homeownership.” The piece is as much a history lesson as it is an exploration of the pain of DIY projects.

“Hal’s essay is compositionally one of the most interesting, thoughtful, and unique of the entire competition,” says staff judge John Kennedy. “He uses his family history to tell a broader story of dual Black American experiences, and brings it all together with a warm, accessible anecdote about home maintenance.”

Meera Vijayann’s essay “The Space Between My Fingers” was victorious in the Space prompt. Meera’s work digs into immigration, as it was ruled she was unable to legally relocate from India to Canada with her family. She found a connection to her mother through food, pooris and potatoes, in particular. Faced with a long separation, the meals her mother taught her how to cook provided comfort that she needed.

Judge Kurt Andersen shared, “Over the years I’ve served on various juries judging various kinds of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever been involved in a judging process where all the judges read all the work, or where the best work was so unequivocally the best.”

Special thanks to all who participated in the Medium Writers Challenge, and congratulations to the prompt and grand prize winners. Honorable mention winners will be announced on Friday, October 15.

Barn,” by Aditi Khorana
Death — Italian Style,” by Fiona Cameron Lister
Sky Burial,” by Jess Kapp
Lessons from Roosters,” by Sophie Lucido Johnson
Howl into the Wind,” by Cara Beth Lee
These Were Our Years,” by Sara Benincasa
One Stitch at a Time,” by D. A. Langley
Dead Man’s Bowling Balls,” by Steve Covello
How To Keep a Dead Cat In Your Freezer,” by Jessica Wildfire
Bittersweet Symphony,” by Heather S. Wargo
It Was Our Summer of Dying,” by Paul Thomas Zenki
Dear Bryan,” by Avwemoya Izoduwa Ogheneochuko
A Bone’s Story,” by Dorothy Potter Snyder
A Slow Voyage of Acceptance,” by Nic
Daffodils for Dharma,” by Sarah Olson Michel
Beach Day,” by Stephanie Dianne Kordan
Home Birth, Home Death,” by Gerald Grow
The Secret Language,” by Jessica Martin
Man As Deer,” by brian g gilmore (bumpyjonas)
The Mind Does Strange Things When It Accepts That You Going to Die,” by Steve Fitz
A Fate Worse Than Death,” by Ella Alderson
Slayed by Joy,” by Daniel Williams
The Fact that You’re Smiling,” by Kelsi Lindus
A Perfect Boon,” by Natasha K. Sharma
I Might Have Named Her Lucy,” by Lindsay Rae Brown
My Year of Non-Magical Thinking,” by N. Stanley

Leaving Neonatal: A New Birth,” by Jonathan Bright
Like Icarus,” by Anna Pulley
How to Make the Turn,” by Rebecca Moore
Going Back was the Beginning,” by Victoria Meléndez
Echoes of Love,” by Erin Benson
Behind Every Lining Is a Silver Cloud,” by Susan M. Brackney
What Do You See When You Close Your Eyes?” by Elizabeth Dawber
How The Midnight Express Came To Our Rescue During Our Family Reunion,” by Atash Yaghmaian
The Bruises on My Arms,” by Stark Raving
Birds Still Sing When It Rains,” by Jacqueline Dooley
Pretend You Don’t Know,” by Annie Hill
On Sunlight and Old School Horses: Return to Los Angeles,” by Adeline Dimond
At 40, I Was Scared to Enter the Dating Pool Again,” by Kelly Eden
Hyphenated,” by Juhee Lee
Shame Isn’t an Incentive Program,” by Ginger Ayla
In Case of Emergency,” by Cecily Knobler
Numbers Are People Too,” by JoLynne Martinez
Back in the Saddle: Learning to Love My Dad, Myself, and the Bicycle Again,” by Kasai Richardson
It’s a Hard Thing, Getting Back to the Life You Never Really Had,” by Niels Sorrells
The Reality of Reentry,” by Chandra Thomas Whitfield
A Reflection on the Cosmic Power of My Own Two Hands,” by Shannon Calloway
In Sickness and in Health,” by Jenny S
Regeneration,” by Jennifer Irani
The World Is Not Waiting Where You Left It,” by Corey Baughman
How I Grew Up Alien,” by indi.ca
Riding My First Loop Roller Coaster as an Adult,” by Alison Schaffir

The Eight-Legged Tenant,” by Lara da Rocha
How To Become A More Selfish Parent,” by Juliane Bergmann
I Live in the Space Between Words,” by Tracy Neiman
A Single Woman’s Space,” by Yael Wolfe
Growing Into My Skin: Tales from the Depths of Ugliness,” by Allyssa Capri
A Walk in the Park,” by Casira Copes
Ms. Suzy and Mom: Correspondents from the Trenches,” by Petra Perkins
The Time I Hatched an Egg,” by Amelia
The Growing Space Between Us,” by Jill (Conquering Cognitions)
Office Space,” by Anna Murray
Safe as Houses,” by Monika Dziamka
Dead Girls Don’t Eat,” by Nat
Enough Space To Be Ok,” by Lisa Chudnofsky
How To Create Space For Uncertainty In An Autistic Mind,” by Ella Pearson
Rewilding,” by Lauren Osborn
Moments Of Perihelion,” by Jeanne-Erin
The Space Of What Could Have Been,” by Anastasia Basil
Star Search,” by Jeff Miller
A Father, A Son, And 29 Cars,” by Mark Radcliffe
The Midnight Panini King,” by Laura Todd Carns
The Haunting Of The Mikel Manse,” by Betsy Mikel
The Car Ride After The Boy,” by Meera Simhan
Objects In Space Must Always Exist On Some Level,” by Nick Kolakowski
In Defense Of My Mother,” by Heather Monroe
When Two Of My Worlds Collide In One Contained Space,” by Ali Hall

We Need More Stories Where Nothing Works Out, and Here’s Why,” by A. K. Fisher
A Mother’s Work is Everything,” by Nicci Kadilak
How Sex Work Saved Me From Academia,” by Ellis Brooks
Honest Work,” by Rolli
Who Are You Calling Lazy?” by Tim Wise
Hard Sell,” by Maggie Devlin
When a Boy Doesn’t Need to Die,” by Paula Tavrow
This Body of Work,” by Nayantara Premakumar
This is what we do.” by Mandi Gundersen
When Your Life’s Work No Longer Works,” by Lori Welch Brown
What It’s Like Working in an Office When You Have Tourette’s Syndrome,” by Caitlin Jill Anders
Somebody v. Nobody,” by Gunce Arkan
To All the Jobs I’ve Had Before,” by Jade Porter
I’m a Human Error, And That’s Okay,” by Benja Gabriel Thurgood
Secondary Traumatic Stress (or: On the Dispersal of Brain Matter in a Kentucky Trailer),” by Dan Canon
The Diminishing Value of a Stay-Home Mother After Divorce,” by Laura Friedman Williams
When I Was a Receptionist,” by Isha
The Low-Down, Dirty-Rotten, No-Good Worship of Work,” by Brandy L Schillace
Green Is the Color of My Eyes,” by Melissa Toldy
Why I Like a Good Funeral,” by Arianne Rice, M. Div. CDWF
We Meet on the Page: The Writer-Editor Relationship,” by Brenda Peterson
The Rat Race Is for the Rats,” by Ryan Frawley
I’m Retired, But I Can’t Stop Working,” by K M Brown

If you or a loved one are struggling with thoughts of self-harm or suicide, please do not hesitate to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (8255). This is a free, 24/7 confidential service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information, and local resources. For more information, call or visit SuicidePreventionLifeline.org.

Jermaine Hall is VP, Content at Medium. When he’s not running his two sons and wife from place to place he’s watching Lakers games and drinking coffee.