Make no mistake about it: One must be convincingly bad to be good in this contest.
A University of Wisconsin Oshkosh professor who teaches future English teachers can hold her head high. The imaginary first line to a fiction novel she concocted was such a groaner, it earned her the top prize in the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, a tongue-in-cheek challenge “Where ‘WWW’ means ‘Wretched Writers Welcome.’”
With a 26-word entry, the shortest in the Bulwer-Lytton contest’s nearly 30-year history, UW Oshkosh’s Suzanne Fondrie enters a sort of pantheon of purposefully bad writers. She took the top prize for this doozy: “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”
“Language is flexible, and it’s fun,” Fondrie said. “You can fool around with it and use it irreverently.”
Contest overseers revealed Fondrie and the rest of the 2011 winners on July 25. Participants from British Columbia to New Jersey took honors in other categories.
“I had two others (entries), but I guess they were too good to be bad,” Fondrie said.
The contest began at San Jose State University in 1982. It is named after the author whose 1830 novel infamously began with “It was a dark and stormy night…” Contest overseers annually invite writers near and far to churn out the most cliché, sappy, forehead-slapper of an opening line they can muster.
Fondrie said the inspiration for her fictional opening line came from commutes along Fox Valley and regional roads. She often passed outcroppings of wind turbines. And as the turbine blades turned, so did the wheels of her imagination.
Fondrie earns a small cash prize for her Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest win. She said last year’s winner already emailed her a photo of a “virtual crown” made of “yogurt cups and glitter.”
For the record, Fondrie is no slouch when it comes to writing, teaching or helping prepare the teachers of tomorrow. She has taught at UW Oshkosh since 2002.
As her university bio notes, she previously “taught English and German to high school students in predominantly low-income diverse urban high schools in the Midwest and Southwest.” She has eight years of teaching experience in P-12 settings.
Fondrie pursued her graduate degree at UW Madison with emphases on multicultural education, literacy and teacher education. There, she earned her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. Like her prize-winning Bulwer-Lytton entry, she takes pride in the fact her dissertation was brief.
Her graduate experiences in teaching literature for children, reading methods and development of student teachers have been valuable in UW Oshkosh’s teacher education program, a field of study that has been part of the university since its inception as a teacher-preparatory school 140 years ago. Fondrie has also studied the influence of students’ faith backgrounds on their grasp of issues in her college classrooms.
And speaking of those students… Fondrie said she won’t shy away from any questions her pupils might pose when they discover their professor earned a prestigious bad-writing honor.
“I would encourage them to try it, too,” she said.