Many New Perspectives Through Brno

I have lived in Brno for close to a dozen years. I have met a lot of people. Had a lot of fun. Suffered a few setbacks. Drunk a lot of beer.

For the past few years, I have tried to distill these experiences in this “Through Brno” blog. I’ve written about how I was propositioned by a prostitute within 10 minutes of my initial arrival into the city by early-morning train in 2006. I’ve described the drama of my daughter’s birth. I’ve recounted my successful pursuit of my literary idol, Milan Kundera. I’ve told the story of retaking Driver’s Education as an adult, made my argument for the Namesti svobody Orloj, touched on the horror of a fellow murderous expat, and more: Czech names; Horse Racing; Birthdays; FC Zbrojovka; Teaching high school; Summer camp; Gardening; Learning Czech.

All of my 30 posts have one thing in common: they are all Brno through my perspective.

In the grand scheme of things, that is quite limited because there are, of course, many more points of view. Everyone has their personal experiences.

The best way to see this is through the entries of the Brno Short Story Writing Contest.

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The Brno Short Story Writing Contest was designed last year on the notepad of my mobile phone in a flash of inspiration while riding the No. 12 tram during morning rush hour; it was presented to a grant committee at the Brno Expat Centre on a rainy winter night by Lee Adams and I as a way to showcase the creativity of Brno and increase the membership of our Brno Writers Group; and, in the end, it received the 10,000kc grant.

Suddenly, there was a lot of work to do.

Simon Mawer, an internationally successful writer of Brno-focused books, signed on as a guest juror. Don Sparling, Tomáš Kačer, Anna Formánková, and Lee also served as jurors. And, importantly, Lee created a poster that served as the recognizable image for the contest.

On Feb. 1, we announced the contest start. Originally, the theme was to be “Through Brno”, similar to my theme for this blog, but we simplified it to: “Brno.” We spent the next months promoting it through Facebook pages, personal emails, and a 45-minute lesson about short-story writing that was presented 21 times to about 350 students, including at three local high schools.

It is asking a lot to get someone to write a short story in a language that may not be their first. We expected 20 entries. In fact, the original presentation and then the Official Rules, included a caveat to save us from embarrassment: If we got five or less entries, then each entrant would get 200kc — and nobody would ever mention the failure again.

In the end, the number of entries was not a problem. On deadline night, April 30, I hosted my annual Burning Witches party in my backyard. The email notifications were constant throughout the day and only intensified: 32 entries were made that day; eight came in the final hour; and four got in during the final six minutes. The final number: 87.

Bohumil Hrabal is clearly a popular part of the Brno community. He inspired many entrants, including several authors who took the difficult step of using his incredibly-long-sentence structure to relay their story. The central cemetery is another popular spot. Trams were given a new life. Brno legends got interesting twists. And even the struggle to use the Czech word for a paintbrush in a store was beautifully woven into a story that really showed day-to-day life.

The inaugural contest was won by Adam Sweet, an American, with “New Year’s Evey”. His story used Hrabal and a little-known part of Brno as the central location for a beautiful story. He received 6,000kc.

Second place — “Kuba’s Rotation” by Englishman Theo Singleton — took a public statue that everyone has seen and, literally, tried to turn it. The story also brought up another little known fact about Brno that probably sent a lot of people to Wikipedia: Georg Joseph Kamel and his international botanical influence.

Maya Vusilović, a Croatian, was third with “Dark Horse”, a gritty story set in a part of Brno that many probably don’t visit but that is one of the more interesting and vibrant parts.

Eight additional stories were awarded honourable mention, and many more were published online. Together, they are a virtual treasure trove of contemporary Brno through the eyes of the expats — or the English-speaking and English-writing locals — who live here.

Read them yourself at www.brnowritersgroup.blogspot.com.

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The Brno Short Story Writing Contest has returned for the second year. The theme for this second year contest is “Out of the Box.” No longer are we to look directly inward, now writers are asked to look out.

The contest rules remain the same. All stories must be in English, less than 2,500 words, and somehow use the theme “Out of the Box.”

The deadline is April 30, 2018. Winners will be announced by mid-June.

Thanks to anonymous donations, entry to the contest remains free and the prize structure remains the same: the winner will get 6,000kc; second place gets 2,000kc; and third place gets 1,000kc.

Not everyone can win, but all of the entries will get constructive criticism from the judges.

Good luck.

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