The winners of the 2020 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition touched the judges’ funny bones and hearts with humorous essays about swimsuits and kids and poignant ones about an unlikely friendship between two barnyard pets and a mother’s fondness for lipstick.
The four winning writers receive a free registration to the sold-out April 2-4 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, $1,000 and publication of their essays online and in the workshop’s program. Here’s who topped the field of 559 entries received from 10 countries, 48 states and the District of Columbia:
“Not Everyone Should Have Kids,” DeAnne Spicer Todd, Altadena, California (humor, global)
Judge’s comments: “This essay starts with a great joke and just keeps motoring on from there, with deft observations of a very high quality. It’s not only very funny, but confident, touching and full of underlying affection. Altogether, a really splendid piece of writing.”
“Swimsuit Issues,” Joan Harris, Huron, Ohio (humor, local)
Judge’s comments: “I loved the wryly confessional tone of this one, and it contains some good quips, too. I especially liked the line about a butt requiring its own zip code.”
“Cherries in the Snow,” Kathy Shiels Tully, Melrose, Massachusetts (human interest, global)
Judge’s comments: “I so appreciated this writer’s ability to capture personality, generational divide and the challenges of the mom-daughter relationship with a little #440. The tie of the closing line to the opening is perfect, as well as poignant.”
“John Bradley, the Greatest Turkey Who Ever Lived,” Gwen Rosenberg, Kent, Ohio (human interest, local)
Judge’s comments: “I enjoyed reading of the friendship between Willy and John Bradley, both humorous and poignant. …The emotional journey was well written.”
Eight writers received honorable mentions, $100 and publication of their essays online:
“A Pain in the Foot,” Elaine Ambrose, Meridian, Idaho (humor, global)
“Larry and Me,” Meredith Besser, Los Angeles, California (humor, global)
“Mom’s Last Gift,” Tara Powers, Stuart, Florida (humor, global)
“Holy Cards and Wooden Spoons,” Susan Konig, Bronx, New York, (human interest, global)
“Mom’s Wind Chimes,” Robb Lightfoot, Chico, California (human interest, global)
“Hamburger Helper Cheesy Taco Casserole,” Barbara David, Cincinnati, Ohio (humor, local)
“Upgraded,” Tami Himmelfarb Wolf, Beachwood, Ohio (humor, local)
“Creating Space,” Becky Koop, Dayton, Ohio (human interest, local)
It took a small village of established authors, columnists, creative writing teachers, screenwriters, editors and stand-up comedians to read and evaluate more than 250,000 words during preliminary and second rounds of judging. Two prolific authors — Bill Bryson and Jess Montgomery — served as finalist judges for the humor and human interest categories, respectively.
“I received a great deal of comments from the judges about the quality of the essays this year — how good they were and funny! Repeatedly they told me what a pleasure it had been to be a judge. That was very heartening to me,” said Debe Dockins, who coordinates the biennial contest for the Washington-Centerville Public Library in affiliation with the workshop.
Betsy Bombeck, Erma’s daughter, will keynote the 7 p.m. awards presentation on April Fool’s Day at the Woodbourne Library, 6060 Far Hills Ave. The ceremony is free and open to the public, but space is limited. To RSVP, click here.
Besides the writing competition, the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop sponsors a biennial writer’s residency, A Hotel Room of One’s Own: The Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence. Meet the two winners.
Winners of both competitions will be recognized and honored at the April 2-4 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.
— Teri Rizvi
Teri Rizvi is the founder and director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications.