Powerful Storytellers
Winners of Carolina Woman’s
2020 Writing Contest


Carolina Woman’s annual Writing Contest, a decades-long tradition, is always gratifying to our editors and readers because it highlights the talent and creativity of Triangle women. This year was no exception. More than 200 outstanding entries flooded our offices in January and February, before North Carolina shut down to battle Covid-19.


As the judges and I read through the submissions, we asked ourselves whether it was coincidence that they focused on overcoming adversity, experiencing isolation, keeping busy and making connections – human and otherwise. Or, was it that these challenging times caused us to be more sensitive to, and needier for, uplifting literature?


Much of the fiction, nonfiction and poetry relied on memory and observation to elevate simple, quiet moments into life affirmations. Selecting a handful of champions was simultaneously gratifying and frustrating – gratifying because you are all winners, frustrating for the same reason. Kudos to the aces who participated in this endeavor. Keep pounding on those keyboards and come back again for the 2021 contest. Congrats to the prizewinners, whose pieces follow.

– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher





Grand Prize


"My Mother’s Hands"


Poetry by Jane Rockwell of Sanford

I memorized her hands
swift and skillful
making a perfect bow
for a wreath, a package
turning sugar and eggs
into finger-yearning peaks
or pulling a reluctant glob
into a silken rope
that eventually became mints
their pastel elegance
disguising all the labor
and her slow, thoughtful hands
with flowers – not crowding them
giving empty space its due
the beauty of emptiness
hanging icicles on the tree
just enough over the branches
not to fall
we weren’t allowed to fling them
and we could see why
the best way to fold things – napkins, wrapping paper
cutting paper doll clothes
in and out of ruffles, the empty space inside something
you learned watching her
there are ways to do things
that seem so hard
and the way you felt when you could
so many things
so many times
with scissors, a spoon, even folding a towel
I’ve seen in my hands the same movements, sequence
felt her hands through my own
and now, her much younger hands
guide my older ones
as I struggle with pills in tiny plastic chambers
with containers’ invisible grooves and codes
I remember her frustration, then her humor
and welcome these small crises
that bring our hands together




First Prize


"A Table of Two Tumbles"


Nonfiction by Ashley Memory of Asheboro

“I was black and blue for a while. But I knew how to fall.” – Stuntwoman Hazel Hash Warp, speaking in 2005 at age 91 to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.


Seventy-two years after the world first saw my third cousin Hazel Hash Warp dive headfirst down the steps of Tara in the premiere of the movie Gone with the Wind, my legs suddenly crumpled. It was a Saturday in June 2011, and I was crossing the parking lot to Food Lion in Pittsboro, North Carolina.


More than ten years into multiple sclerosis, then at age 44, I had fallen before. The nerves in my legs don’t respond properly to the signals in my brain, and my left leg doesn’t always lift high enough to clear steps, rugs, and other obstacles, which causes me to stumble and sometimes fall. But this tumble was different. Out of nowhere, my legs just gave way, and my knees hit the asphalt. BAM! At that moment, I thought of Hazel.




We never met. Born on November 11, 1914, Hazel was the niece of my great-grandfather Albert “Hobson” Hash. She grew up in the wild and open country of Sweet Grass County, Montana.


A self-described “runt,” about my size at just over 5 feet tall, Hazel grew up riding horses. Bareback. Sometimes even two at a time. Standing. She dropped out of school to work as a trick rider in California and once there, she caught the attention of the director of Gone with the Wind




I’ve watched Scarlett O’Hara’s infamous tumble countless times. It’s Scene 56 on the second disc of the 70th Anniversary Commemorative Edition on DVD. “Maybe you’ll have an accident,” snarls Clark to Vivien, speaking of Scarlett’s unborn child, and then we see the back of Scarlett’s head – which is now the head of my cousin in a dark-brown wig. When Hazel pummels Clark with her fists, she appears to lose balance and dives headfirst over the red-carpeted stairs. Then she rolls, head over heels, not once, but twice, before landing on her back at the bottom of the staircase. It was melodramatic, yes. Overdone, certainly. Even a touch comical. But it remains an unbelievable stunt.


Clark Gable liked Hazel. Vivien Leigh did, too. The woman who witnessed my fall tilted her head in contempt. She exuded an air of Havarti cheese and crackers, and the need to breeze off to something far more important than me. She may have also thought I was drunk or drugged. How dare I occupy even a tiny wedge of her peripheral vision?


I didn’t expect to be rescued, as Rhett swept away Scarlett, but I would have welcomed anything. A flicker of a smile. Even just a crinkle around the eyes.




I never learned to tumble. I seek my thrill in words. I’m a go-getter of words. I fling myself headlong into the adventure of writing. The stunt, for me, is to flick a word like tangle into the air and watch it twine into a sentence, a story, a poem: a tangle of thistle and clover. To look up a word like fall and learn it comes from the Old English fallan, that it’s Germanic in origin, related to the Dutch vallen, and partly from Old Norse fall, which means downfall, or sin. I know M.S. isn’t a sin. But falling brings shame.




I was sore for a few days. And I was scared. After my fall, I realized that my miracle of a medicine – a drug called Tysabri – wasn’t a silver bullet. This could happen again. But are we ever the same after a fall? When I rose, I entered a new world. A world where, for the first time in my life, I knew how it felt to be on my knees, struggling to get to my feet while another person walked so callously away.




Hazel lived until August 26, 2008, longer than nearly anyone from the movie. After my fall, I started to reimagine the Hazel I knew from her interview. Surely the 91-year-old wisecracking crone once trembled herself. Especially before plunging down that staircase. Of course her heart twisted as she sucked in that last breath. As she closed her eyes, she saw the snow-capped Crazy Mountains of Harlowton, Montana. She may have even tasted the bitterroot-tinged butter made from the milk of her family’s cows. Had she sat under the stars with a hometown boy and considered giving her career up for him? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know how you learn to fall, even by practicing. Like Hazel and me, you just do what comes naturally, throw your hands out first, let your arms take the shock of the blow, and then you try to roll onto the soft parts of your body. And you pray. Please God. Please, please, please. Help me learn...






Second Prize


"Driving Lessons"


Short story by Carol Phillips of Siler City


I don’t want to learn to drive. Bad things happen when you drive. Like being hounded for rides when you should be studying, like my sister Nell is. Her friends are always asking her to drive them to the mall or some other hang out where they can check out the boys. Dad bought her a car because he likes that she is popular. He says I could be popular too if I drove.


I don’t want to be popular.


He says this even after what happened to my brother, Bud. He went to a party, drank some beer, smoked some weed, and on the way home, ran into a tree and totaled his car. Bud said another car forced him into the tree, that it crossed over the line of the narrow two-lane road that leads to our cul-de-sac. There wasn’t proof that it didn’t happen that way–only that “speed was involved.” Dad’s lawyer got Bud off with some community service and a class on driving under the influence that was supposed to determine if Bud had a problem. Bud thought it was a joke. His girlfriend, Rachel, didn’t get off so easy–she was pretty messed up-–broken bones that took forever to heal and cuts on her face that will probably leave permanent scars. Pity because she was pretty.


Bud and Rachel aren’t together anymore–she’s still home recovering and Bud went clear ‘cross the country to Berkeley. He dropped out and hasn’t returned home. Dad thinks he’s ‘finding himself’ organizing farm laborers. I think he’s just getting high.


Dad says I need to learn to drive because it is a rite of passage to adulthood. I say I thought getting my period covered that. Dad says I need to learn so I can be independent. I say I’m moving to New York City and people there don’t need cars to be independent. I don’t think Dad believes me. Dad says I need to drive because Mom needs help with the family errands.


I have no answer for that.


As soon as Bud got his license, Mom pretty much refused to drive anywhere. Bud loved to drive–even to the grocery store and dry cleaners–and so encouraged Mom to stay home. After a while, Bud tired of running errands and Nell took over when she got her license. It was kinda understood by then that Mom wasn’t going to resume errand running. She doesn’t seem to leave the house anymore at all. I think she’s agoraphobic. Anyhoo, Nell’s pissed that I haven’t got my learner’s permit yet. She doesn’t like running errands–her friends won’t go with her and she’d rather be with them. She keeps telling me to get my permit.


I don’t want to learn to drive.


My friends think I’m weird, all except Paul and Nance. They understand and say if I don’t want to learn, I shouldn’t have to. They say anyway I could be a menace on the road–they’re probably right.


Paul and Nance plan to go to New York City too. We’ve been planning on it for a while, making sure we get all A’s and that the teachers like us so we can apply to Columbia and City University and New York State and a bunch of others. Our parents can afford it, but we’re looking into scholarships too, just in case. We really want to escape from our upper-middle-class enclave.


Dad buying Nell and Bud cars just because they wanted them. Dad getting Bud off after the accident. I mean Dad’s not doing anything every other Dad isn’t doing, and Bud was lucky no one was killed. Three kids at school have been killed already this year and it isn’t even the holiday break yet. Two were driving so there’s some justice to that, but the third was killed by Jerry. Jerry says his passengers were goofing around and hit the wheel. I think he was high. He’s always high. His parents have hired a big-time lawyer and are all worried that a conviction will ruin his chances of getting into Harvard or Yale, of having a good life.


What about the dead kid?


Getting off doesn’t help the kids – just look at Bud – but the parents don’t seem to see that or believe somehow that it’ll be different for their kid. They don’t believe their kid is doing drugs. Like Ken’s parents–Ken’s the biggest dealer in high school. and I’ve heard his parents say how proud they are that he doesn’t do drugs. Well, technically they’re right. But Emily’s folks are the same way, and she’s hammered every weekend.


I don’t want to learn to drive. But as I said, Mom’s agoraphobic, that and drunk most of the time. Not sloppy drunk, maybe not drunk at all, just quietly buzzed. “For my nerves,” she says. She drinks Chardonnay – the fashionable, acceptable drink – and orders it by the case-load. I guess Dad doesn’t notice, either that or doesn’t care. She says she doesn’t like it, that it tastes like medicine. I don’t know. I don’t want to know. Another reason I won’t ever be popular. I don’t want to ruin my life. I want to go to New York City.


But to get there, I’ll probably have to learn to drive.





Third Prize


"Hebrews 11:1"


Poetry by Diepreye Y. Amanah of Chapel Hill

On the other side of the world, my mommy sits reading,
hair covered by a scarf, countenance serious but calm
as an archaeologist bent over a promising excavation.
Her hands cradle a large print Bible, red leather cover
sagging around it like an overripe papaya peel.
Guided by lingering light from the golden sunset,
her eyes survey the columns of hallowed text:
soon all that can be heard is the crisp sound
of flimsy scritta paper turned over, and now and then,
her whisperings of “hmm...Amen..hmm...Hallelujah.”

The words reach from the page like a familiar touch
in a strange crowd: Now faith is the substance
of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
She wants to ruminate on this but is stopped
by the giggles of neighbors’ kids in the twilight
and the ambrosial waft of curried rice and vegetables.

She closes the Bible, eases it onto her bedside table,
lights the kerosene lamp, and steps outside head high
as a farmer returning home from his vineyard,
looking forward to a ripe harvest in his hands.

Are there answers shaped perfect as grapes
in this Book she is never far from?
Could they fill the many holes in her life?
The one on the left side of her bed.
The ones in the chairs around the dining table.
The one I opened beside her when I moved away
to this unseen side of the world.






Fourth Prize


"The Rescue"


Fiction by Jami Lee Amy of Goldsboro, N.C.


Jack watched the truck run the stop sign and slam into the side of the white SUV as he sat in his car at the stoplight sipping his coffee. The whole scene seemed to be playing out in slow motion as the SUV rolled down the embankment and the truck came to a stop at the edge of the road. Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Jack wasn’t even supposed to be in town. If he was smart, he’d just keep on going.


An ambulance would be on its way soon.


If only he’d listened to himself he wouldn’t be in the situation he was in now. Instead, years of rescue training gnawed at his conscience and had him pulling his car off to the shoulder of the road and then running down the hill to where the SUV rested against a tree. He peered inside to see that the driver was the only one in the car and she was unconscious. Jack pulled the door handle, but the door wouldn’t budge. He’d have to wait for the calvary and their heavy equipment to get here to get her out. It seemed like the smartest thing to do anyway since she could have a possible spinal injury.


Just as Jack had resigned himself to wait, he smelled it. Gas. Panic set in as he realized he didn’t have a choice. He had to get her out. Now. He grabbed the door handle again, hoping the extra shot of adrenaline would help him pry it open, but no luck. Jack knocked on the window trying to rouse the driver to help him from the inside. Nothing.


“You’re a Navy Seal, damn it! You can get one woman out of a freaking car!,” he said.


Jack ran back up to his car and got the tire iron from the trunk. He noticed the driver of the truck watching him from the other side of the road.


“A little help would be nice,” he yelled.


The truck driver held up his phone.


“I called 911.”


Useless, Jack thought as he ran back to the SUV and smashed the driver’s side window with the tire iron. He didn’t have time to be careful of flying glass, but a few cuts to her face would certainly be better than her burning to death. The gas smell was stronger and he knew it was only a matter of time. He yanked off his coat and wrapped it around his arm, cleaning the glass from the door as best he could preparing to pull her out. Then he got his first good look at her. She had dark hair that was fanned out across the seat and if it were not for the blood running down the side of her face, she’d have looked like a princess in a fairytale. She was beautiful.


He reached down to pull her out, but the airbag had her pinned too tightly to pull her up through the window. Damn it to hell! He decided to try the door again, but this time from the inside. It was then that he discovered the door was locked. Idiot, he thought as he unlocked the door and pulled it open. As he bent over to undo her seatbelt he looked down into her face. She began moving her head from side to side and mumbling something he couldn’t understand. She was waking up. He put his arms underneath her and lifted her as gently as he could out of the car.


“Are you an angel?” she said groggily.


He looked down to find her eyes open. They were deep brown, almost black and he felt a tug in his gut.


“No, honey, but I think you might be,” he said.


She smiled a little then leaned her head against his chest. He pulled her close to him and began carrying her back to the road. In the distance, he heard sirens and knew help was on the way. A pop like a gunshot sounded behind him and he didn’t have to look back to know that the car had caught on fire. She woke suddenly and looked over his shoulder back at the car, then she looked up into his face with her eyes full of awe. He’d seen that look before, but on her it was enough to bring a man to his knees.


“You saved me,” she said.


Her head fell back against him and he knew she was out again.


The paramedics were rolling the stretcher toward them as Jack reached the top of the hill.


“Don’t leave me,” she said as he lay her down gently on the stretcher.


The paramedics began taking her vital signs and she reached her hand out to Jack.


“I won’t,” he said, taking her hand in his.


It was then that he noticed the huge rock on her ring finger. She was married. His angel belonged to someone else. He didn’t know why it bothered him, but it did.


He stood by her side and held her hand as the paramedics cleaned the gash on her head and bandaged it. She was drifting in and out of consciousness as they prepared to load her in the ambulance.


“Are you going with her sir?” one of the paramedics asked.


Jack looked down at her hand in his. If there was one thing that his years of military experience had taught him, it was that every decision had consequences. He didn’t need SEAL training to know that his life was about to get more complicated.








Fifth Prize


"Selfie on My 69th Birthday"


Poetry by Beth Copeland of Creston, N.C.

This heart-shaped face with broken
capillaries tells a story

of bearing witness and birth,
of being rooted to earth. Each line’s

a statement of survival,
each wrinkle a word on the wind

these age spots a route of the sun’s
slanted rays, each silver hair–I refuse

to call them gray–a testament
to time, a reflection

of moonlight on water, of smoke
and storms, of a woman becoming

invisible and being




Honorable Mention


"Tax Season Tuesday"


Poetry by Alice Osborn of Raleigh

After one kid brushes her teeth,
tucks in by 9:10 p.m.,
I rush to clean four dishes
before my tax accountant husband returns
to our unmopped kitchen at 11:07 on April 13
while the guinea pig contemplates tough decisions:
Should I eat hay, pellets or carrots?
I work best without sound,
the TV remote grows in kind dust
on the sticky coffee table,
surrounded by long hairs–either mine or my daughter’s.
My feet stick to cereal bits and popcorn nubs and cracker crumbs–
teenage son strikes again,
the other guinea pig.
I like falling asleep on the couch,
I like having the bed to myself,
I cry at night so no one can see
me counting down to April 15.







“Daddy’s Song,” poetry by Margaret Bauer of Greenville, N.C.
“A Fair Trade,” fiction by Jessica Casimir of Chapel Hill
“Santa Fe,” poetry by Bethany Chaney of Carrboro
“Carolina Summer,” fiction by Heidi Cope of Raleigh
“The Cat,” nonfiction by Marianna Crane of Raleigh
“Kitchen Chores,” poetry by Brenda Kay Ledford of Hayesville, N.C.
“Keeper of the Bird,” nonfiction by Karen Kent of Chapel Hill
“Edward Hopper Live Tableau,” poetry by Ruth Moose of Pittsboro
“One-sided Conversation,” fiction by Sherry Torgent of Raleigh
“Bus Stop Bouquet,” nonfiction by Kate Porter Young of Durham