In front of a small crowd gathered at the Morris Museum of Art on Sunday, Susan Levi Wallach read her latest short story, Another Day for the Monkeys.
The story, which follows a young man returning from war and his struggle finding a normal home life, earned her a first-place finish in the 2013 Porter Fleming Literary Competition.
The annual competition received more than 417 entries this year from Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama in four categories. The top three finalists in fiction, nonfiction, plays and poetry were invited to a casual ceremony and brunch at the museum Sunday, where they were asked to read – or act out – their winning entries.
Museum Director Kevin Grogan said the setting couldn’t be more perfect.
“We like to do (the competition) because, frankly, it’s entirely consistent with our mission,” he said. “This is a museum of Southern art; well, why don’t we celebrate Southern writers?”
Wallach, who entered the contest for the first time this year, said writing her award-winning story came easy.
“I live near Fort Jackson and my husband is retired military,” she said. “A line just popped into my head one morning as I was writing and it all sort of came together.”
Wallach returns to her home in Columbia with a $1,000 check made available by the Porter Fleming Foundation. Berry Fleming created the foundation in the late 1960s with the purpose of celebrating local writers and to honor his father, Porter.
“He directed the trustees – present and future – to make annual gifts to individuals and organizations in order to enrich the lives of the citizens of Augusta, Ga., and the adjacent areas thereto,” foundation Chairman Cobbs Nixon said.
Once works are submitted, Grogan said, they are codified and made anonymous so the judges aren’t able to form opinions before the work is read.
Augusta resident Edward Wilson, who read his poem Kite at the ceremony, said anonymity adds to the excitement.
He took second place for his third top-three finish in the poetry division.
“It’s nice to know that I’m still hanging in there,” he said with a laugh.
Nixon said the artists are more satisfied with the recognition than the prize check.
“Like any artist, they’re gratified that someone has recognized their efforts,” he said. “To get paid for a prize is icing on the cake.”