Can Memoir Compete with Fiction?

image from Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters

Two short story contests have come to my attention in the last few days and it has me wondering: can memoir compete with fiction?

I don’t mean “compete” as in “get my vote for most compelling reading” or “hold its own in terms of value to society”. I mean specifically, “can I enter a memoir essay in a contest for short stories?”

Lulu Short Story Contest

One contest is offered by Deadline is December 1, guidelines here. Lulu is seeking 600-word pieces, submitted using their eBook template. The wording seems just a wee bit vague, but here’s the promise: “…we’re gonna help you create an eBook out of your short story that’ll go live in the iBookstore and on Barnes & Noble’s NOOK.” (Does that mean all entries or just winners? Dunno.)

The Lulu guidelines are all about how to create the submission–not a word on the subject matter. I conclude that trues stories well told are just as welcome as fiction.

First prize is $500. Winners will be selected by a panel of Lulu judges and announced mid-December after review of all submissions.

The other contest is…

The Wisconsin People & Ideas / Wisconsin Book Festival
2012 Short Story and Poetry Contests

Deadline is 5pm December 15, entry fee $20, guidelines here. The Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters is seeking 2500-5000 word pieces, submitted in traditional double-spaced manuscript format. Fine, detailed, submission guidelines–but not a word on the subject matter. Again, I conclude that a true story well told would have just as much chance to win as a fictional invention.

What’s the difference between a memoir and a short story? Maybe it’s like the difference between ignorance and apathy. (“I don’t know and I don’t care.”)

Maybe it’s all in the mind. If I tell you it’s true, it’s memoir. If I tell you it’s fiction, it’s a story. Either way, you’re trusting me to classify it for you.

Trust between writer and reader. That’s what this is really about. Write anything you like–win contests with it if you do it well–but don’t mislead me about what to believe about it. That’s all I ask.

But the contest judges? For either of these contests, I see no requirement to specify whether the story told is true or invented. Let’s enter some memoir essays and see how they compete!





About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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