Allegheny College senior Madeline Hernstrom-Hill has won the Stony Brook Short Fiction Prize for her short story “The Church of the Reformed Eden.”
The prize, awarded to an outstanding undergraduate author, includes a $1,000 prize, a full scholarship to the Southampton Writers Conference in July 2018 and consideration for publication in The Southampton Review.
Judge Amy Hempel, author of six acclaimed books of short fiction, selected Hernstrom-Hill’s story from more than 200 entries.
“This story features a remarkably complex, compelling, and humane look at some of the most important issues of the day: immigration, religious extremism, our destruction of the planet, same-sex partners, for example,” Hempel wrote in praise. “But there is never an agenda, rather they appear as part of a decent woman’s experience, a woman who is making her way in Florida to support her family in the Dominican Republic. In strong, assured prose, the author shows us what it is to try to navigate this difficult terrain while protecting one’s sense of oneself and staying open to possibilities that appear in truly surprising forms.”
Hernstrom-Hill, a double major in history and English with an emphasis in creative writing, wrote and revised “The Church of the Reformed Eden” as part of a combined senior comprehensive project and independent study group mentored by Matthew Ferrence, associate professor of creative writing. She described the work as speculative fiction.
“A woman immigrates to St. Augustine, Florida, from the Dominican Republic and accidentally falls in love with a female priest whose religion is on the wacky side,” said Hernstrom-Hill, 21, of Boston. “Everything spirals from there.”
The prize and Hemphill’s praise are validating, she said.
“My great fear, and the fear of a lot of undergraduate writers, is we write as undergraduates and we don’t actually go on and get into this community of people who write (beyond college) and are able to make a career out of writing,” Hernstrom-Hill said. “It’s super validating to have someone in that circle say nice things about my writing. It makes me feel happy about my possibilities after graduation.”
The 12-day conference, her first, is a chance to improve her writing and “see writers who are outside of college and be able to speak to people in the field and get a feel for how you actually do this,” she said.
Hernstrom-Hill credited Allegheny’s creative writing program for giving her the confidence to submit the story for consideration.
“I wouldn’t have produced this without being part of this supportive, very passionate creative writing community,” she said.