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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

American's 'Artist' Takes 1st in Short Story Contest

An American woman writing fiction for the first time flew away with the top prize in a short story contest sponsored by The Moscow Times and the Anglia British Bookshop.

Amy Crutchfield Boone, a California native and political science teacher at Moscow State University, won for "The Artist," a first-person narrative of an aging Russian painter. As the first prize winner she was granted a free trip to London by Moscow's Inna Travel Agency.

"The story was about a person I met," Boone said. "He was an artist, but he wasn't a romantic person. He didn't over dramatize or over-fantasize like most of the artists I've met here, who are these bohemian types."

Accepting her prize at an informal awards ceremony at the bookshop last week, Boone, 37, said that receiving compliments in Russia for writing is akin to receiving praise in France for cooking.

Second place was split between Australian Peter Calder for "The Luck of It All" and Helen Jones of Britain for "The English Lawn."

Stories were required to be in English, previously unpublished, set in Russia and have a maximum of 2,000 words. In response to announcements placed last November in this newspaper and at Anglia, more than 70 entries were submitted.

The panel of judges selecting the winning manuscripts included Fred Durman, Anglia's marketing manager, The Moscow Times' features editor, Genine Babakian, movie critic and book publisher Tom Birchenough, director of the American Center Marisa Fushille, Kate Griffin of the British Council, Stephen Lapeyrouse, who leads an English-language discussion group, and Natasha Perova, editor in chief of Glas publishers.

The manuscripts were judged anonymously, and the winners were determined by a point system, with judges assigning one to five points to their top five choices. Point tallies were kept secret, and any person whose entry received at least one point was invited to the ceremony last week.

Judges professed to having different criteria, and thus different top choices.

"I chose the one that was the best story. Not for the language, not for the English," Lapeyrouse said.

"I judged which ones I enjoyed reading," Fushille said. "I wanted a positive story, not exclusively dark, not gloom and doom."

"How can you follow any formal rules?" Perova said of her evaluations. "You just trust your intuition, of course."

The judges said there was not a single story that appeared heads above the rest, which made for a close contest.

Perova, whose Glas publishes contemporary Russian writing in English, said that one of her top picks was Tony Perry's entry, an excerpt from his "Twelve Stories of Russia, A Novel I Guess," published this month by Glas. Perry's writing vied for a prize, judges said, though there was doubt he would have been entitled to it since the segment was recently published.

Several participants said they do not consider themselves to be writers, but they welcomed the chance to be creative.

"What is satisfying is to do something creative because otherwise you go metro-work-home, metro-work-home," said Jones, 55, an English teacher. "And it's sort of your duty in life to do something creative like painting or writing. You get such a burst of energy."

Jones' story, "The English Lawn," was based on life at the dacha with her Russian husband, Yury. This was also her first attempt at fiction, although in the three decades she has lived abroad, Jones has become an avid letter writer.

Tying Jones for second place was Calder, who also declined to call himself a writer.

"In recent times I'd always regarded myself as a letterist," he said. "But I looked it up in the dictionary recently, and it's not there. … I like to invent words."

Calder was first drawn to Russia on a mission to sell kangaroo skins to be made into hats. This business scheme failed, but now the Australian native, who teaches English, is on his sixth visit to Moscow. This city provides aspiring writers with endless material, he said.

The other winners seconded that opinion. Over the last few years Boone has written "small, nonfiction journalistic sort of things" that she hopes to put together and publish.

"You take one ride on the metro," Boone started to explain.

"Yeah, absolutely! The people!" Jones finished.

"The Artist" was published in The Moscow Times last Friday. It can be read, along with the second-place -entries, at

  The Runners-Up

The Luck of It All, by Peter Calder.
The English Lawn, by Helen M. Jones.