As voting scandals go, it might even be better than the Winter Olympics. You know, the one where they caught that nasty French skating judge trading her vote in the pairs finals? This time, though, it's Willamette Week's annual short story contest. Who woulda thunk it?
Not only are the judges upset, but the third-place winner Ñ who apparently won the contest before certain members of the WW staff decided to replace him with someone more to its liking Ñ has written a letter to the editors demanding an explanation.
In our last episode, as you may recall, Kief Hillsbery, author of 'War Boy' and one of three nonstaff judges for the writing contest, was in a cabin somewhere in Washington, working on his latest novel, so there was no way to know for sure how he voted. All we really knew was that neither of the other judges had picked the winner, a piece titled 'Creative Thought 414.'
Well, Kief has emerged from his cabin in the woods, and, boy, is he hot. Turns out he doesn't like '414' either. He voted for a story called 'Floozy' by a young man named Jon Carr. Gave it 10 on a scale of 10. He gave 'Creative Thought 414' a lowly one.
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So, here's the question: If none of the three nonstaff judges voted for 'Creative Thought 414,' how come it ended up winning? Easy. According to word leaking out of WW Ñ and, believe me, the place leaks like a sieve Ñ the fourth judge, Arts & Culture Editor Caryn B. Brooks, decided that 'Floozy' Ñ the actual winner, based on a tabulation of the judges' votes Ñ just wasn't suitable for their yuppie target audience. So, 'Floozy' got bumped to third, and '414,' which none of the other judges even liked, was declared the winner.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Jon Carr, the young man who wrote 'Floozy,' is African-American, and his story Ñ clearly the best of the finalists Ñ is written in black dialect. Carr himself is willing to give WW the benefit of the doubt, as he wrote in his letter to Willamette Week. 'That is why I am calling this cultural preference and not racism.'
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For his part, WW Editor Mark Zusman adamantly denies having any knowledge of the discussions that led to selecting the eventual winner. Furthermore, he stands by Brooks, who, after news of the scandal broke, sent out e-mails to the judges frankly acknowledging that she and her assistant had Ñ what's this? Ñ picked the winner.
'We're aware,' she explained to the three judges, each of whom is a published novelist, 'that some of you preferred different entries than we did and that the nature of the judging process is highly subjective. É The two of us did the best job we could at considering your input while using our best judgment.'
Which, of course, only makes Kief Hillsbery angrier. 'Then why have judges in the first place?' he says. 'We've been used. The paper owes Jon Carr an apology and public acknowledgement that he won the contest. I also think the paper owes the judges a public apology.'
Not that Zusman has asked for my advice, but at this point probably the best thing for him is to give everybody a gold medal Ñ in his case, a $250 first prize Ñ and hope that the whole thing just goes away. Not that it will, of course.