Over the phone from across the country a grieving sister began telling me about her younger sister, Nickie, who died eight weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
“She was one of the funniest and most creative people I’ve ever known,” said Marcia Stewart, an editor and writer on the West Coast. “She made me laugh more than anyone else.
“Nickie had the ability to make everything fun — from a game of Rummy to a major family celebration. Everyone, old and young , wanted to be with my energetic and playful sister. And it wasn’t just a matter of her sense of humor and imagination. Nickie was a compassionate and loving sister. I could always count on her for emotional support and honest advice — from fashion to career choices. There was no one like Nickie.”
Marcia’s words hung in the air long after the call ended.
We didn’t know each other. She hadn’t heard of the University of Dayton’s Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop until she Googled “humor writing.” I once described this workshop that I had the joy of creating 20 years ago as “part love letter, part family reunion, part pep talk,” never envisioning a new creative endeavor that fits that mold perfectly.
Through Aug. 1, the workshop is accepting original, unpublished funny essays of 1,000 words or less for a new competition, “Nickie’s Prize for Humor Writing.” Essayists, authors, bloggers — anyone with a hilarious, touching story — is invited to submit a humorous essay about their sister (or a soul sister). In the spirit of Erma Bombeck, the tone can be funny, absurd, offbeat, quirky — or fun in a smart way similar to the tone of the essays in The New York Times’ “Modern Love” section.
We’re casting the net wide with the hope of awarding $300 cash prizes to up to 20 winners. The essays will be published online, but we’re thinking beyond the workshop’s blog to a book, with these pieces as the centerpiece. That’s the dream, at least.
Nickie never published any of the hysterical stories about her childhood that she tucked into cards to her family, or the satirical pieces she wrote for friends. She dreamed of retiring from her job in corporate communications, taking writing workshops and submitting some of her funny pieces to the New Yorker and other publications. She wanted to write humor.
“She was the family’s storyteller,” Marcia said. Nickie could weave stories around the most ordinary things — such as sharing our cramped childhood bedroom — that made me laugh until I cried.”
That’s the spirit behind the sister stories we’re seeking for “Nickie’s Prize for Humor Writing.”
“This seemed like the perfect way to honor Nickie,” Marcia said. “I wanted to do something fun and uplifting to honor her memory and the special bond that sisters share.”