Ogbuagu wins national short story contest

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Nelson – John Brady

Nelson - John Brady
Photo by John Brady.

Karan Dhingra
dhingrak@grinnell.edu

Nelson Ogbuagu ’16 won the 44th annual ACM Nick Adams Short Story Contest this year, selected by Chicago-based author Bill Hillmann as the first place winner. Ogbuagu will receive a $1,000 prize. Ogbuagu’s winning story is titled “Playing It Safe” and originated in an essay he wrote for a creative nonfiction workshop with Professor Dean Bakopoulos, English. The essay was eventually refashioned into fiction for submission to the contest. Appropriately, it received praise from Hillmann for reading both like an essay and a story.

“It is based upon a personal anecdote,” Ogbuagu said about the inspiration for his story. “It is a coming-of-age story about a Black youth who comes to terms with his Blackness.”

Ogbuagu did not initially feel comfortable with writing about race because he felt like he did not know enough about the history of race relations and other related issues. However, upon meeting Kiese Laymon, an author who visited Grinnell as part of the Writers@Grinnell program in fall of 2015, Ogbuagu felt encouraged.

“Laymon told me that he wrote because he felt like he had a story to tell. I felt like I could do the same,” Ogbuago said.

The story itself focuses on a young Black man who attempts to assimilate to the image of what is considered a “quality Black person,” in Ogbuagu’s words. Then the man meets a policeman and realizes that he cannot escape his Black identity.

“As a writer, I really like to explore ideas of love and interpersonal relationships and instances in which those have failed,” Ogbuagu said. According to Ogbuagu, love is presented as something that conquers all, so he is interested in areas where it breaks down.

As for current and future projects, Ogbuagu said he was taking a class on shame, for which he is writing about infidelity.

“I want to explore the idea of feeling bad and hating yourself and juxtapose it against the negative moral judgments made against cheaters,” Ogbuagu said.

“Playing It Safe” is Ogbuagu’s first story and the first time he has submitted any kind of work to a competition. He is thrilled with the response and it has encouraged him to think about writing more. Another Grinnellian, Grace Lloyd ’16, was one of the finalists for the contest for her story titled “Crush” and received an honorable mention from Hillmann.