"If you have the urge to write, it’s going to have its way with you. You’re going to give in in the end.”

Novelist Olaf Olafsson ’85, interviewed on page 24, is hardly alone in feeling this way about the demands of fiction writing. Indeed, he aptly identifies what may be one of the most enduring truths (and chief complaints) of the writer’s life.

That’s why it was gratifying when our alumni short-story contest, the centerpiece of this summer fiction issue, drew dozens of submissions. It was clear the authors cared deeply about their story, and about the possibility of having it first published in Brandeis Magazine. As we received the stories — 80 in all — we felt entrusted with each writer’s dearest creation.

And what an astonishing array of tales. The longest topped 7,000 words; the shortest concluded at 47. A number of stories took their inspiration from Jewish themes — the Holocaust, Hanukkah, ritual circumcision or ethnic discrimination. Several were allegories (one featured a prince/toad who ultimately chose an amphibious existence over cohabitation with a shrewish woman). Others were coming-of-age stories or science fiction. Many featured one kind of creature or another, including two talking dogs and a loquacious, lovelorn herring.

Our authors animated their stories with an equally ambitious lineup of themes: aging, love and loss, bad marriages, violence and its aftereffects, food fetishes, separation and sex. Not all topics were weighty; LOL moments and comic plots lightened the tone of some of the narratives.

A panel of judges — Stephen McCauley, Brandeis’ associate director of creative writing; literary agent Felicia Eth ’74; and novelist Adam Mitzner ’86, MA’86 — selected the winning story: “Ears,” by Atar Hadari, MFA’94, which you’ll find on page 10. Hadari, an Israeli-born, London-based poet and translator, displays a keen sense of language and mood as he transports the reader back to a deeply unsettling time in the life of Beit She’an kibbutz. The judges also selected three runners-up, which appear on our website, at www.brandeis.edu/magazine.

Additionally, the latest book from Caroline Leavitt ’74, “Is This Tomorrow,” is excerpted on our website. The author of 10 novels, Leavitt sets this story about a missing child in 1950s Waltham, where anti-communist, anti-Semitic sentiment simmers just below the surface. Leavitt says the book was inspired by her own upbringing in a modest Waltham neighborhood. Vanity Fair’s “Hot Type” department called the novel “riveting,” while Working Mother pronounced it a “must-read.”

I hope you find plenty of must-reads in this issue, both in print and online. As always, please send me your comments and criticisms.

Laura Gardner, P'12