Friday, March 15th marked the first award ceremony of the inaugural Nicholas Barker Short-Fiction contest created by Dr. Robert Erle Barham and Dr. Hans Madueme. These avid fiction lovers created this contest with the hopes of encouraging the writing of powerful stories that are steeped in transcendent realities.
“Our dream was that one day evangelical Protestants would give us stories that pull us out of our spiritual slumber, stories that remind us palpably, tangibly, evocatively, that this world that we live in is a theatre for God’s glory,” Madueme said to begin the awards ceremony. “Our dream is that one day Covenant College students and graduates would be writing electrifying stories that shock their readers with the spiritual power and wonder of the Biblical story.”
In the second floor Library Lounge, Barham and Madueme honored the first Nicholas Barker contest winner, Aline Sluis (‘20), and runner-up, Katherine Scott (‘19), who exemplified the beginning fulfillment of this vision. At the ceremony, both authors read excerpts from their short-fiction pieces that sought to encapsulate supernatural realities by depicting this world as a “theatre of God’s glory.” Both authors had the opportunity to comment on their stories, offering a personal sneak-peek behind their writing.
Sluis’ piece entitled “Staggersville” is set in the Wild West, a setting which Sluis said lends itself beautifully to the supernatural. “Here you have this powerful stranger who comes in from out of nowhere and often brings swift and decisive judgement with him,” she said. “And I thought, that sounds a lot like what happens in the Old Testament. A specific example would be the Angel of Death that descends upon the Egyptians in the Exodus. I took that idea and ran with it.”
Sluis read the beginning of her piece, which seemed to captivate the audience members with its rich, apocalyptic imagery that sets the stage for a powerful, arresting story.
“It was a masterful handling not just of the short fiction form but of the genre of Spaghetti Western,” Barham said in regards to Sluis’s work. “She was always observing, but creatively playing with the conventions of that genre, and thematically they served her unique vision.”
When Sluis had found out she won the award, she was so ecstatic at first that she didn’t know how to respond to the email right away. During the awards ceremony, she was simultaneously nervous yet very honored to share her work. Sluis said she hopes to continue emulating the way the show “Twin Peaks” and the movie “The Shining” handle the supernatural. “I really admire the artistry that goes into both as far as making the supernatural appear like a very real and threatening thing,” Sluis said. “I want to continue to do stuff like that in my work.”
Scott’s piece entitled “Travis” is a coming of age story narrated by a young pastor’s daughter. Throughout the story, she reflects on her friendship with a young boy in her neighborhood and her father’s role as a respected pastor. This leads her to learning a lot about the world in the midst of tragedy and her own honest questioning.
Scott herself is a pastor’s daughter. Although her piece is not auto-biographical, Scott enjoyed many elements of the playful experience of her fictional character as reflective of her own childhood adventures in the outdoors. Although she had been nervous to share her work, she was so thankful for the opportunity. “I was really excited because it was really so much fun to write,” Scott said. “I am very happy to share it, and it was a huge honor.” Scott hopes to write more fiction in the future.
“The impression that both of these writers gave is that they were observing the conventions masterfully,” Barham said. “On the level of the prose, both of them are really eloquent. They had a kind of manner of expression that suggested real command: every word seemed to be in service of their design. Also, both of the writers seemed to be allergic to cliché, which I really appreciated.”
Renee Mathis, an Advisor on the Covenant College’s Board of Trustees, helped to support the award through a financial gift. She has been teaching high school writing and literature for thirty years and was delighted to contribute to the vision.
“What better thing for a teacher to do than give back,” she said. “I was really excited about helping them, and both of my daughters had Dr. Barham and Dr. Madueme when they were Covenant students.”
Mathis was excited to attend the award ceremony and hear from the authors. “The results speak for themselves,” Mathis said. “It was wonderful. Any time you can hear an author read their own work, that is the best.”
A total of 15 Covenant College students submitted works to the contest and were honored on the back of the program during the ceremony. With permission from the authors, Barham and Madueme hope to have a bound volume of all of the entries available in the Kresge Memorial Library soon. “All the contributions were delightful,” Barham said.
If you were unable to submit a piece this year, never fear! Barham and Madueme hope to make the Nicholas Barker Contest an annual endeavor. They plan to have an information session with further details to come. They may play with the recipe a little bit, but the parameters will remain fairly similar. So, Covenant College, will you be a part of this mission for good Christian fiction? You better get to writing.