More than 2,100 people submitted stories to the Florida Keys Flash Fiction Contest, competing to work in Ernest Hemingway’s former Key West writing studio. But none of them could outshine “Wallpaper” by Ireland’s Denyse Woods.
Denyse, a writer who lives in Inniscarra, County Cork, was recently named the winner of the competition, earning the never-before-offered chance to pen prose where “Papa” did. She triumphed over entrants from around the U.S. and several other countries who submitted “flash fiction” stories of 500 words or less.
“I entered the Florida Keys Flash Fiction Competition because I’ve been to Key West,” explained Denyse, who also writes as Denyse Devlin. “I know what an amazing place Key West is; I know Hemingway’s house is very special — I never imagined I’d win it, but it was certainly worth giving it a go.”
Modest though she is about her victory, Denyse brought a significant literary background to the task of crafting a standout flash fiction entry. She’s the author of five novels, including the critically acclaimed “Overnight to Innsbruck” and “The Catalpa Tree.” She’s also the former artistic director of one of Ireland’s leading literary festivals.
In fact, she attended the prestigious Key West Literary Seminar in 2012 (the flash fiction contest, FYI, debuted at the 2016 seminar). She’s also working on a novel set partially in the island city, plus a collection of flash fiction pieces.
If her winning contest entry is any indication, Denyse’s flash fiction collection should be a stunning success. Her lyrical “Wallpaper” depicts a woman so enthralled by mysterious letters from a traveling stranger that she papers her walls with them.
Contest judge Karen Russell, whose books include the Pulitzer Prize finalist “Swamplandia,” praised the story for its tinglingly vivid word pictures and its eloquent description of the reading process.
“I’ve always loved that uncanny pleasure of the reading experience — eavesdropping on another consciousness, fusing my subjectivity with a stranger’s experience,” advised Karen, who was a panelist at the 2016 Key West Literary Seminar. “And ‘Wallpaper’ captures that uncanny intimacy, while showing us how words can make the walls go porous, opening up portals into another season, another country, another body.”
Denyse will spend up to 10 days writing in the Key West studio where Hemingway authored novels and short stories in the 1930s. Her prize also includes complimentary accommodations in a residency cottage at The Studios of Key West.
In addition, she can attend July’s Hemingway Days festival and try her hand at fishing in the Bacardi Oakheart Key West Marlin Tournament — which salutes Ernest’s devotion to the challenging deep-sea sport.
Ernest Hemingway wrote classics including “For Whom the Bell Tolls” and “To Have and Have Not” in the simple studio behind his Spanish Colonial home on Whitehead Street. The flash fiction contest was created to celebrate Key West’s literary heritage, which dates back to his time there.
How does Denyse feel about being the first writer since Hemingway to work in the legend’s private sanctum?
“It’s got to be the greatest literary prize available,” she said. “And it’s daunting as well, because the spirit of such great writing is in that room — and it’s also incredibly exciting.
“I just hope I can do him justice, and do the award justice,” Denyse added. “I’ll do my best.”