“Some say he came down in a pillar of smoke and fire like some great column sent down from God’s own chamber. Ghostlike he drifted over the mesas and left nothing behind. There’s all sorts of names for such a thing, but the Native Americans call them wind-walkers—beings that travel the air as the crow flies, zephyr-like.”
This begins Aline Sluis ‘20’s “Staggersville,” the winner of last year’s inaugural Nicholas Barker Short Fiction Prize, a prize created by Dr. Robert Erle Barham and Dr. Hans Madueme. Named in honor of a beloved English professor from Covenant who taught from 1966 to 2006, this annual competition is open to all Covenant students and requires them to craft a fictional story that is 2,000 to 8,000 words in length. These stories can draw from any genre of fiction, including historical fiction, contemporary realism, magical realism, fantasy, detective fiction, and science fiction. Stories are required to be unpublished and to insightfully and creatively open up fresh and new insights into the Christian scriptures. This is the second year that this prize is being offered, and excitement abounds around campus about who will take the cash prize this year.
Regarding their vision for the contest, Drs. Madueme and Barham aim to create “a more unapologetically Christian fiction, one that offers fictional words harmonious with a biblical, supernatural picture of reality rather than accommodating a naturalist, materialist perspective.”
They argue that the genre of Christian fiction often carries a negative reputation and that secular features are prevalent in contemporary fiction. If robust Christian perspectives are included at all, they are set in the past, mitigating the worldview. What if Covenant students could change that?
Their upcoming academic article “Stories that Gleam like Lightning: The Outrageous Idea of Christian Fiction” expounds on these concepts.
In addition, Covenant Professor Paul Luikart, a working writer himself who teaches Creative Writing: Fiction, plans on encouraging his students to enter.
Sluis encourages everyone who is interested, whether an English major or not, to enter the contest, saying, “It's actually really cool to see your peers apply themselves to this kind of pursuit outside of class.”
To tackle the challenge of writing Christianity into modern-day fiction without appearing heavy-handed, she combined Western fiction, which easily incorporates the supernatural, with elements from the Old Testament, pulling from Genesis, Exodus, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. The result was “Staggersville,” which follows Jericho Fife, a wanderer who drifts into the small mining town of Staggersville in hopes of freeing the townspeople from the hands of a lawless gunfighter named Stagger Bell.
This story, as well as runner-up Katherine Scott ’19’s “Travis” and all other previous entries for the contest, are available as a bound volume in the reserve section of Kresge Library.
Interested in creating your own Christian fiction? Full rules are posted outside the offices of preliminary judges Drs. Madueme and Barham in Sanderson Hall. Contest submissions are being accepted from October 21, 2019 through March 2, 2020. All stories must be submitted as a PDF to firstname.lastname@example.org.