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Worst Wins in Bulwer-Lytton Contest : Passion for Purple Prose Produces Perverse Prize

May 16, 1987|Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — A Minneapolis office manager with a passion for purple prose has taken top honors, or dishonors, in an annual bad writing contest, outgunning more than 10,000 turgid tales.

"I didn't expect to win," said Sheila Richter, 37. "I knew my entry was dreadful, but I didn't know it was that dreadful."

Richter, who works at the University of Minnesota, won a computer and "whatever public humiliation may come her way," said Scott Rice, an English professor at San Jose State University and founder of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest.

Bad Enough to Win

The winning entry: "The notes blatted skyward as the sun rose over the Canada geese, feathered rumps mooning the day, webbed appendages frantically pedaling unseen bicycles in their search for sustenance, driven by cruel Nature's maxim, 'Ya wanna eat, ya gotta work,' and at last I knew Pittsburgh."

Richter said the entry began as an assignment in a poetry class.

"I wrote it in about a minute and a half," she said. "I thought it was really bad, so I sent it in."

The contest, which has resulted in collections of the nasty narratives, is named for Edward George Earle Bulwer-Lytton, a contemporary of Charles Dickens who remains infamous for beginning an 1830 novel with, "It was a dark and stormy night. . . ."

The event is in its sixth year, and the number of entries continues to grow. One man, mathematician Tim Poston of Venice, Calif., submitted more than 1,000 entries this year, Rice said.

Richter submitted only the one, and doesn't plan to try again.

"I think I'm going to rest on my laurels," she said in a telephone interview. "I think once is enough."

Rice said animals, fur balls and spouses murdering one another seemed to be major themes this year.

"It varies from year to year," he said. "Somehow, these people are in key with one another."

Michael McGarel of Park Forest, Ill., for example, won the award in the "purple prose" category with this: "The sun rose slowly, like a fiery fur ball coughed up uneasily onto a sky-blue carpet by a giant unseen cat."

Adventurous Entry

And there was this from Dylan Worthey of Washington, D.C., which won in the "adventure" category:

"On this Godforsaken speck of land in the middle of nowhere, with no sounds save the pounding of the waves and the raucous cry of gulls to break the silence, with no company save one hairy, disgusting goat, Crusoe's days passed like kidney stones until finally, inevitably, the goat began to look good to him."

Sally Sams of Ben Lomond, Calif., took the "vile puns" category with: "Dawn crept slowly over the sparkling emerald expanse of the country club golf course, trying in vain to remember where she had dropped her car keys."

Rice admits to being a little weary of the contest, but he plans to continue it.

"It's just like opening oysters, looking for pearls," he said. "Occasionally I find one, although it seems like the stacks of oyster shells are getting higher and higher and my fingers are bleeding more."

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