Chad Simpson wins short fiction award

Collection of stories a reflection on life in the Midwest

February 8, 2012

Visiting Assistant Professor of English Chad Simpson’s short stories frequently address life and relationships in the Midwest where he was born and raised. His most recent collection of stories, “Tell Everyone I Said Hi,” deals with just these themes — and won him first place in the 2012 Iowa Short Fiction Awards.

Simpson’s collection of 18 stories “deal with some notion about what I think about Midwestern life,” Simpson said. “Sometimes I dislike the way people from the Midwest are portrayed in fiction.”

While a finalist in three other similar contests, the win is a first for Simpson, a professor at Knox since 2005.

“It’s a very competitive field,” Simpson said. “You have to have a good manuscript, but you also have to have luck. There are a lot of good manuscripts that didn’t win.”

Although Simpson only took one creative writing course in college, he knew that he eventually wanted to study fiction. However, not feeling ready to pursue a M.F.A., he took four years off, during which he read an estimated 500 books and wrote 5,000 pages.

“Most of it was garbage, but I was figuring out how to do this,” he said.

It was a decision that helped him when he returned to school to earn his M.F.A. at the Southern Illinois University at Carbondale.

“I picked up on [writing] a lot faster because I spent so much time figuring it out on my own,” he said. It was in graduate school that Simpson wrote some of the first drafts of the stories that appear in his winning manuscript. Others were started as late as 2010.

The stories, which range in length from 2 to 25 pages, deal with themes of love, family relationships and “lots of people making decisions,” Simpson said, who wanted to show the emotional depth of people from the Midwest.

The Iowa Short Fiction Awards, a nationally recognized competition that started in 1969, represents a form of writing loved by Simpson.

“I do love short stories,” Simpson said. “It’s a form I fell in love with the first time I encountered it.”

However, short stories also pose a challenge for the writer, forcing them to condense information and communicate themes in a confined space.

“Short stories are more like poems than novels. Everything in them has to mean more than it seems to say,” Simpson said, who nonetheless appreciated the challenge.

He also valued the community provided by Knox.

“The reason I’ve been able to stay active as a writer has a lot to do with the fact I get to interact with students on a daily basis,” he said.

Simpson’s current work is a collection of linked stories, tied together by a common narrator.

Simpson’s manuscript will be published by the University of Iowa press in the fall of 2012.

For more information on the awards, visit www.uiowapress.org.

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