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Bringing Light to Sci-Fi Short Fiction

A look at The Roswell Awardand The Tomorrow Prize for sci-fi short stories

During LitFest Pasadena this May 18-19, lovers of science fiction will head to the Playhouse District to celebrate two growing sci-fi competitions, The Roswell Awardand The Tomorrow Prize. Now in their fifth year, these popular science fiction short story competitions celebrate sci-fi storytelling through live readings of stories that envision our future.

“We encourage writers to focus on exploring issues of today through a speculative future lens,” says Rosalind Helfand, who directs both competitions. “And we get a really broad range of stories through that. We have everything from very hard science fiction to more speculative sci-fi, sci-fi that’s more social or cultural.”

A reading at the Roswell Award and Tomorrow Prize ceremonies

Because the awards are completely non-profit, writers don’t pay to submit their entries. And that opens up the competitions to a broad range of entrants. 

GLOBAL SCI-FI: THE ROSWELL AWARD

“The Roswell Award is for writers from all over the world,” says Helfand. “We’ve had submissions from Saudi Arabia, Malawi, China, everywhere. There’s always somebody in every culture who loves to speculate about the future or write stories about space or think about technology or whatever the sci-fi subject is. It’s been amazing. We’ve had a huge response.”

Rosalind Helfand on Recursor.TV
Rosalind Helfand

As an example of the stories they receive, Helfand points the first Roswell Award’s winning story, “Grandma’s Sex Robot” by William Hawkins.

“It was so poignant and human,” says Helfand. “You really felt for this lonely grandmother who is not understood by her family. Sex robots is a topic that gets talked about a lot or represented; you’ve seen it around. But it was this totally different approach that made it about loneliness and ageism, because Grandma was unapologetic about it. The story was funny, but at the same time, people were choked up about it. It was this clear gem of a winner. I think it’s really something when you get a science fiction story that moves you, and I think we’ve been lucky to get a number of stories like that.”

PROMOTING DIVERSE VOICES

In addition to selecting finalists and first, second, and third place winners, The Roswell Award also offers a special category — The Women Hold Up Half the Sky Award. Presented by Artemis Journal and the Hollywood Chapter of the National Organization for Women (Hollywood NOW), it recognizes a science fiction story that embraces feminist themes and has a strong female protagonist.

“It’s gotten a really incredible response and fantastic stories,” says Helfand. “And any story that doesn’t win this award goes into general consideration for the Roswell Award. It has boosted strong female sci-fi submissions.”

Drawing in a diversity of writers and perspectives is an essential element of The Roswell Award and The Tomorrow Prize. “Science fiction is thought leadership,” says Helfand. “A lot of the big thinking about the future that’s truly imaginative has come out of science fiction writing. And a lot of politicians and scientists have been inspired by it. So, if you don’t have women contributing to that thinking too, and well represented, then you’re missing a large chunk of who are your thought leaders.”

ENCOURAGING TEENS TO WRITE: THE TOMORROW PRIZE

The other arm of the LitFest Science Fiction competition is TheTomorrow Prize, which inspires students to explore their present through speculating about their future and to excel in the art of storytelling. Participants must be attending high school (grades 9-12) in L.A. County. “We’ve gotten the most unbelievable range of stories from the students,” says Helfand.

“We had around 18 schools represented around Los Angeles this year,” says Helfand. “It’s been incredible because we’ve had teens submit stories again and again, writing and submitting until they win. It’s really inspiring to see that they keep coming back.”

The Tomorrow Prize also has a special category — the Green Feather Award. Presented by the Los Angeles Audubon Society, it recognizes an outstanding science fiction short story by a teen author that centers on overcoming today’s environmental challenges. “We want to show people overcoming. It’s gotten some really extraordinary stories from students that show kids are thinking about these issues, and thinking pretty deeply.”

BRINGING STORIES TO LIFE: CELEBRITY READINGS

During the award ceremonies, celebrity performers bring the stories of the finalists and the winners to life on stage, creating a fun, vivid experience for all involved. “Grandma’s Sex Robot,” for example, was read aloud to great accolades by Gates McFadden (who portrayed Beverly Crusher, Star Trek: The Next Generation). “When these stories are brought to life on stage, it’s amazing,” says Helfand.

This year’s Roswell Award celebrity guests include Adrienne Barbeau (SWAMP THING), Ezra Buzzington (FRINGE THEATRE FESTIVAL), Osric Chau (SUPERNATURAL), Denise Grayson (THE SOCIAL NETWORK), Gedde Watanabe (ER), and others.

For The Tomorrow Prize, guests will include Jasika Nicole (FRINGE), Vanessa Marshall (GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY TV series), Yuri Lowenthal (SPIDER-MAN PS4), James Arnold Taylor (STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS), Anna Graves (VOLTRON), and others.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE

Making a Donation

Both contests are underwritten by the Light Bringer Project, which promotes the arts. So, gifts are very welcome. To donate, visit the Science Fiction Contests pageon the Light Bringer Project website.

Attending the Readings

Both award ceremonies and stage readings take place at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S El Molino Ave, Pasadena, CA, during LitFest Pasadena.

Roswell Award and Tomorrow Prize on Recursor.TV

Roswell Award
Saturday, May 18, 2019
4:30-6:30pm

Tomorrow Prize
Sunday, May 19, 2019
5:30-7:30pm

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