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Relishing a Good Story

by Randall Martoccia, Assistant Editor

A stack of printed papers on a brown sofa

Back when I posted this picture on Facebook in 2016, I called this my lap stack: the 3-inches worth of Doris Betts awards submissions assigned to me.

I’ve been a long time screener for the Betts (fiction), Albright (creative nonfiction), and Applewhite (poetry) awards. I prefer reading paper, thus the stack.

“Well, you probably don’t have to read all of every story,” people sometimes say. They assume that some stories can be dismissed because of excessive errors or goofy formatting or content ill-suited for NCLR. I do find myself reading every page of every story or poem. Though I sometimes can dismiss a story early on, each story usually has something that compels me to read to the end. I’m a story fiend, and I give every story a chance to provide my fix.

I do not put the submissions through any kind of strict criteria and assume that any one of them, including the genre stories, has potential. While reading, I’ll usually set aside my preferred stories and poems. I also try to identify the works that my biases might have led me to pass over. In my second round of reading, I’ll read these works again and select a few to pass on to our judges. Margaret does not hold us to a specific number to pass on to the next round, and sometimes I relish my screening role: I really don’t need to make a firm decision between two poems, for example. I can send both. The petty part of me likes to saddle the judge, the one who’ll be getting the credit, with more to read.

“Screening” suggests keeping the bad things out, but I don’t think of what I do in that way. I’m selecting, and our writers and poets make the selection process both difficult and delightful.        

Give Randall more to read: the Albright Creative Nonfiction Competition is open for submissions through March 1. Poets, get ready for April!