Let Freedom Ring


Our contest The Drinking Fountain  asked you to compose a response to the plaque forged in fire in Alabama in 1931 that still burns the eyes. I have forward the entries of three finalists to Pulitzer Prize winner Jonathan Freedman for final judging.  The winner–that is, the entry that most conforms to Jonathan’s perception of good writing melded to clear, heroic intent, will be announced on June 16th at the 5th Annual Writers’ and Creatives’ Reunion in Oceanside.

Jonathan has been above the fray, only marginally aware of the dissension this contest has provoked.

I’m amazed at how the three finalists are able to set a scene so quickly, establish expectations for the reader, and then veer to surprising and transformative endings! Their points of view are established through visual cues and fragmentary conversations. Time and space are compressed into realizations. Each piece is different, so I don’t want to generalize.

Let me read the stories again and feel through my reactions before I rank the winners.


Jonathan’s smile, as authentic as his passion for social justice

I expect he will have as hard a time choosing the winner as I did choosing three finalists. Everyone who entered served a greater purpose: the pursuit of justice and reconciliation. Fault lines and hypocrisies got exposed along the way, but what was also revealed was the sincere desire to heal the soul of our nation. In that endeavor, every single entry was motivated by the finest of our virtues: compassion, humility, and love.






I intend to fill the void on the site until June 16th with thoughts and the writings of others who, like yourselves, are intolerant of what we have inherited, and may even have unintentionally, unknowingly perpetuated. This is an excerpt from Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson:

“There are many drawbacks to being ignorant of and indifferent to history. But one of the worst is a failure to appreciate the depth of U.S. racism and the heroism of the long struggle against it. We are a country in which 1 out of 7 people was owned by another. We had an American version of apartheid within living memory. It was a hard-won lesson that racism is a form of oppression that destroys the soul of the oppressor as well. We honor that lesson, not out of tender sensibilities, but because of long, difficult experience…”


16 thoughts on “Let Freedom Ring

  1. Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

    Here’s my vote that the Decider undecide the current standings (which only he and Mr. Freedman know), and invite those semi-finalists who are unhappy with the quality of their submissions, or who didn’t have time to submit one, to give it their last best shot.

    Surely the judges will have an instinctive response to what they read: we know quality when we encounter it, even if it might take a little time and thought to explicate the reasons why our hearts beat faster, or don’t.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      As a writer as hard on my own stuff as on anyone else’s, I think Jon and I didn’t waste the chance fate gave us. But I doubt anyone wants to win because someone else who would otherwise have had a pretty good shot didn’t feel fully prepared and therefore didn’t mount the challenge. The rules can be bent in any direction Thorn chooses…

      • Thornton Sully says:

        You are right, Sarah. I can and do bend the rules. But not at whim. I have closely followed the precedents of previous contests, which have finalists and then a winner, usually chosen by consensus of those who participate in the contests. Sometimes, I have been the sole judge, other times, the winner of a contest was given the duty of choosing the winner of the next contest. In this instance, because of the nature of the prompt, I decided to take advantage of my friendship and professional relationship with a Pulitzer Prize winner, Jonathan Freedman, because he won his award by addressing the prejudices I have asked our writers to address in this contest.

        • Thornton Sully says:

          I converted the category of finalists to semi finalists, because there were multiple entrants who shared the vote tally. My agreement with Jonathan was that I would present him with only three piieces to consider, and choose a winner from those. He has done so, and I will post his decision after I make the announcement live on June 16th at the 5th Annual Writers and Creatives Reunion in Oceanside.

  2. Laura says:

    My suggestion is to have the judge choose the 3 best first entries (since most writers’ first was better) and submit those to Mr. Freedman. (Or their second entry, if that happened to shine). After all, there’s not much difference between reading 500 words and 300 words. They’re all quite short “flash” pieces.
    However, it’s Thorn’s decision, and perhaps he wants to surprise us… It would be nice to hear which pieces are his 3 picks and why (so we learn about writing ), but in keeping with the wild ride of most of these contests, we may not know till the very end, or we may never know…Buckle up!

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      Laura, if a student does poorly on a final, knowing that a final was required, though doing well on previous exams, can he or she then request that the instructor ignore that culminating test? After all, the instructor understands by that point that the student was generally capable, and that final exam performance was likely just an unfortunate anomaly.

      • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

        I think people, in general, are willing to see someone given a little extra accommodation because of extenuating circumstances than they are to have their own rule-following become for nothing.

      • Laura says:

        Sarah, a clarification: My comment was simply because Freedman is a fine writer and I hoped he’d see examples of WWYP’s greater pieces rather than everyone’s rushed work. I thought most of us (inc. you) had better first pieces, and at least one dropped out. I don’t care who wins and I write for the joy of it, not prize $ (but I really wanted that cute “merman” statue before)! Like many, I use WWYP for inspiration and a fun, supportive community. Thorn already chose 3 anyway, so just an idea for later. Take care, everyone, and enjoy your summer!

        • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

          There’s no excess of venality implied, Laura, by anyone saying they’ve entered a contest with the hope and intention of winning it.

  3. Thornton Sully says:

    And another, though certainly not the last codpiece –OOPS!–codicil to this: Many lobbied me privately to express their choice of winner. I was moved by the generosity you extended to one another. I was disappointed when people lobbied on their own behalf, as what I hoped for in this contest were expressions of humility. I intend to introduce more structure regarding submission( still a favorite word of mine!) and rules for judging. It seems EVERYONE was offended by my flexibility. I guess you prefer me stiff?

  4. Derek Thompson says:

    Thorn, I think this contest was so different from any we’ve run before – given the themes and prize pot – that expectations were heightened and lengthened. Like my next book, we’re a work-in-progress, so the feedback and experience this time round will serve us well for future contests.

  5. Jon Tobias says:

    I’ll do my best to make it to the reunion. Last year’s was entertaining and it was really nice to meet such a diverse group of people who may not all have been writers but were affiliated with it in some way or another. Maybe it was the beer, but I know I was smiling and shaking hands the entire time. I haven’t quite finished off the ream of paper I walked away with last year. Almost. Parts of it go with me to every poetry reading though.

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