The Susan Wittig Albert
LifeWriting Competition

Each year, the Story Circle Network sponsors a lifewriting contest. SCN members are invited to write personal, experienced-based essays in response to a quotation and a prompt.

The winners receive cash prizes. Their essays are published in the Journal and online. Click on the links below to read this year's winning pieces.

2016's topic focused on place/environment.

Here are some wise words to help you get started:

"If I were a place, I'd be Labrador: improbably, impossible, tempestuous, serene, thinly populated. I'd be smooth boulders carried by great rivers of ice, plopped down at random, and balanced precariously against the odds of gravity for thousands of miles. I'd be spired mountains, crumbling ridgelines, and winds that literally make the water smoke. I'd be purple sunsets, bedrock that looks like marshmallows, and relentless green waves beating against the shore..."
—Jill Fredston

"The environment is where we all meet; where we all have a mutual interest; it is the one thing that all of us share. It is not only a mirror of ourselves, but a focusing lens on what we can become..."
—Lady Bird Johnson

"As much as we live in a place, we live in place... We live where we have made definitions, and in the process of making definitions, we create a place in which to live."
—Sallie Tisdale

"Stories nurture our connection to place and to each other. They show us where we have been and where we can go. They remind us of how to be human, how to live alongside the other lives that animate this planet... When we lose stories, our understanding of the world is less rich, less true."
—Susan J. Tweit

  • 2016: place/environment. What kind of place do you live in? How do you feel about it? Is it a "mirror" of yourself, a "lens" into what you might become—or something else altogether? How does your place on this planet define you—and if it doesn't, why not? If you were a place, what would you be? Why? How has your place shaped your story—and your story nurtured your place?


  • 2015: failure. Your prompt asks, how have your failures changed your life? Was there a moment, an incident, or an experience that left you feeling like a failure that in retrospect was a changing moment? Can you imagine a life without failure? Was there someone whose support during a failure experience forever changed your life? Tell us those stories.


    • Dinner for the Departed: A Tale of Two Sisters, by Claire McCabe of Elkton MD
    • Tomb Therapy, by Lorna Lee of Ridgefield WA
    • Perfect Failure, by Linda Marshall of Centerville OH
    • The Last Banana, by Debra Winegarten of Austin TX

  • 2014: balance. You may choose to focus on the word as a noun or as a verb but either way there are stories to be told...


    • Flying Sand and Swirling Dust, by Sara Etgen-Baker of Anna TX
    • Keep Your Seat, by Lois Ann Bull of Easton CT
    • Balancing Buzzards, by Brenda Black of Prairie Grove AR
    • Henny Penny, by Lois Halley of Westminster MD

  • 2013: family. We all have one, be it the one you were born into, the one you created, or a community of people with which you share common interests and have a trusting, comfortable, validating relationship.


    • Father Philosopher and the 100 Things, by Jo Virgil, Austin TX
    • The Family of Woman, by Karen Dabson, Columbia MO
    • Man Things, by Denise Jacobs, Baton Rouge LA
    • It's Complicated, by Lucy Painter, Sarasota FL

  • 2012: solitude. Greta Garbo's trademark statement was "I want to be alone." Some years after she made this statement, she offered this clarification: "I never said 'I want to be alone.' I only said 'I want to be left alone.' There is all the difference."

    Greta was comparing two different approaches to solitude. This year let's consider the place that solitude has in our lives. Here are some words to get you thinking and, of course, writing.


    • Adieu, Solitude, by Janet Lucy, Santa Barbara CA
    • Waltzing Alone in the Garden, by Debra Davis, Cle Elum WA
    • Climbing Narahoe, by Peggy Christian, Missoula MT
    • Attitude Adjustment, by Bonnie Frazier, Brookings OR

  • 2011: courage. Have you ever stopped to think about how your own perceived failure actually resulted in something far better than your original intent? Can you think of a time when, in the midst of failure, you had to dig deep to find the courage to go on—only to later realize that the outcome was not a failure at all? What lessons have you learned from what you thought was a failure? How has your life changed because you "failed" and were forced to learn from that process and turn it into something positive? Or, do you know someone—another amazing woman in your life—who has influenced you through her own courage in the face of failure?


    • Seren's Serenity Prayer, by Marlene Samuels of Chicago, IL
    • Rats and Roses, by Susan Flemr of Fairfield Bay, AR
    • Dancing to the End of the Song, by Nancilynn Saylor of Austin, TX
    • Arbitrary Violence, Determined Courage, by Stephanie Dalley of Forestville, CA

  • 2010: letting go. In each life there are obstacles to be overcome. Sometimes we get caught up in the overwhelming fear that we just can't do it. Sometimes we may feel as though we are not equipped to handle what sits before us. But, once the obstacle has been tackled, we can look back and see that we did face that obstacle, we chose our path and we were able to overcome—sometimes much to our own surprise.

    Write about a time you had to let go to move forward, a time when you recognized that holding on no longer made sense. What made you realize it was time to let go? How hard was it to do? What steps did you take? What did you learn along the way? How did the experience of letting go change you? How did it change your life?


    • Finding Home, by Khadijah Lacina of Shihr, Yemen
    • Making Lemonade, by Susan Kasper of Georgetown, TX
    • De-Demonizing Maui, by Jo Virgil of Austin, TX
    • I Have to Let Her Grow, by Margaret Stephenson of Austin TX

  • 2009: overcoming obstacles. In each life there are obstacles to be overcome. Sometimes we get caught up in the overwhelming fear that we just can't do it. Sometimes we may feel as though we are not equipped to handle what sits before us. But, once the obstacle has been tackled, we can look back and see that we did face that obstacle, we chose our path and we were able to overcome—sometimes much to our own surprise.

    Write about a time when you were faced with what you just knew was too much for you to overcome - a time when you felt totally ill-equipped to handle what life had thrown your way. Write about the ways in which you approached the situation, the fears you had to deal with, the twists and turns that you had to make to come to a resolution of the situation. Write about how and when you first realized that you did, indeed, have what was necessary to overcome your particular hurdle. Write about how doing so changed your life. Be sure to include what you learned about yourself along the way.


    • The Spirit of Cherry Pie, by Mary Lee Fulkerson of Reno NV
    • The Face in The Mirror, by Linda Hoye of Auburn WA
    • Glowworm, by Linda Sievers of Arcata CA
    • Morgan's Legacy, by Michelle Welch of Bakersfield CA

  • 2008: evolution and growth. Evolution and growth happen when we take risks or face up to challenges in order to achieve our dreams. We invite you to write about a point in your life in which you evolved and grew in one dimension or another. What happened? When? Where? Who was involved? How did this growth change you? Was your life transformed for the better? Or not? We invite you to write the story of evolution or growth in your own life.


    • Trick or Treat, by Amber Polo of Camp Verde AZ
    • The Homecoming, by Victoria McNabb Wheeler of Stockton NJ
    • Strong Winds, by Carol Hyde of Round Rock TX
    • My Mother's Hands, by Karen Appleberry of Grapevine TX

  • 2007: birthings and beginnings. Beginnings are magical moments, whether they are joyful, ecstatic, painful, or traumatic. Write about a beginning in your life. What began? How? When? Where? Who was involved? What happened? What happened after that? How did this beginning change the story of your life? Write the story of a birthing or new beginning in your own life.


    • Carol Ramsey, Austin TX
    • Katherine Misegades, Fort Wayne IN
    • Sandi Simon, Austin TX
    • Georgia Hubley, Henderson NV

  • 2006: truth. Truth can be a hard thing, often a painful thing. It can defeat us—or it can redeem us. For SCN's seventh annual writing competition, we invite you to write a story about learning the truth about yourself, your family, your significant other, or perhaps even your place in the universe. And remember, those moments when we have faced the truth can run the gamut—everything from learning that there is no Father Christmas after all to learning that our spouse is having an affair, and so much more. Tell us the story of a moment in your life when you finally had to face a truth.


    • Pixie Paradiso, Acton MA
    • Sandra O'Briant, Los Angeles CA
    • Lavon Urbonas, Rancho Cucamonga CA
    • Gwen Hatley Whiting, Marietta GA

  • 2005: womens' friendships. We at Story Circle have come to know that the bonds women share as they begin to realize their own potentials—and share their own stories—are some of the strongest bonds we, as writing women, can create.

    When you get together or communicate with your friends, remember that you are helping them to become themselves, and in the process, you are learning more about yourself as well. Remember to tell them what an important role they play in your life. Offer your own story as a means of sharing the fact that rarely have we been the only one in a particular circumstance—the ways in which we have dealt with the circumstance may differ but many of us have been on the same or similar paths at some point in time. Just knowing that sometimes gives voice to a story that has been fighting to be freed for one of our members. The truth, honesty and courage that we show in our sharing with each other gives truth, courage, and honesty to others who are on their own path. This year, we give our friends the gifts of our own ear, eye and heart as they share their deeply personal stories.


    • Laura Girardeau, Moscow ID
    • Barbara Smythe, West Covina CA
    • Patricia Daly, Largo FL
    • Lucy Ann Albert, La Mesa CA

  • 2004: the relationship between mothers and daughters. Tell a story about yourself within the mother-daughter relationship, within the human continuum of mothers and daughters.


    • Ellen Collins, Vienna VA
    • Susan Schoch, Idledale CO
    • Diane Linn, Bryan TX
    • Diane Pattara, Austin TX

  • 2003: our environment. Our environment, both natural and human-made, shapes us in important ways. We are who we are, in large measure, because of where we grew up, where we spend our recreational time, where we choose to live. Tell a story about the way your environment has shaped your life.


    • Karen P. Ryan, Erie PA
    • L. Hazel Davis, Chelsea MA
    • Mary M. Elizabeth, Austin TX
    • Dee Stover, Concord NC

  • 2002: our identity. "Who Am I, Anyway?" Some possible approaches: how you found (or lost) an identity; how you discovered, resolved, or learned to live with a contradiction or conflict in identities; or how your identities changed in response to changing circumstances.


    • Linda Joy Myers, Richmond CA
    • Jackie Woolley, Austin TX
    • Mary Jo Doig, Raphine VA
    • Lisa Shirah-Hiers, Austin TX

  • 2001: May Sarton wrote, "To close the door on pain is to miss the chance for growth." What painful event brought new growth in your life?


    • Jean McGroarty, Battle Ground, IN
    • Erin Philbin, Pittsburgh PA
    • Sandy McKinzie, Lafayette IN

  • 2000: a relationship that taught me something important. This might be a joyful relationship, or painful, or challenging. It might have ended many years ago or still be on-going. Tell us about the experience and what you learned from it.


    • Mary Faith Pankin, Arlington, VA
    • Duffie Bart, Monterey CA
    • Marie Buckley, Hillsboro OR
    • Carolyn Cook, Austin TX
    • Peggy Park Talley, Gonzales TX