When the poet Okwudili Nebeolisa first started to write short stories, people told him to stick to poetry. At the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he is currently studying for an MFA in poetry, someone told him that his literary fiction was not good, that it read like genre.
Now the Nigerian has won the Prairie Lights Fiction Contest, organized by the biggest bookshop in Iowa City and open to all its residents. It comes with $500 for his unpublished short story.
“I have always looked for validation for the short stories I have been writing,” he told Open Country Mag. “Winning this was like a quiet voice in my head saying I shouldn’t listen to [them] and continue to write more fiction. I’m so grateful to whoever judged this prize and selected my story as the winners. It may be small but it means a lot to me. Especially because this prize has been in existence since 1990, three years before I was born.”
Nebeolisa, whose poetry has appeared four times in The Threepenny Review, was also recently selected for the Lakeside Lab Writers in Residence, a three-week program in Iowa City.