Meet the 2018 Great American Fiction Contest Prize Winners

Meet Julia Rocchi, winner of the 2018 Great American Fiction Contest for her short story "Open Season at the Café Rumba," as well as the contest’s five runners-up.

Julia Rocchi
(Courtesy Julia Rocchi)

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Meet the Winner!
Julia Rocchi

Julia Rocchi
(Courtesy Julia Rocchi)

“‘Open Season at the Café Rumba‘ has always held a special place in my heart, and I’m thrilled it has found a home in such a celebrated magazine,” says Rocchi, who was “beyond excited” on learning she had won first place, publication in the Post, and a prize of $500. “To be placed in the company of historic greats such as Ray Bradbury and Agatha Christie — not to mention Norman Rockwell — is truly an honor.”

Temperatures rise at Café Rumba as the spicy rhythms of Latin music heat up the atmosphere in the fast-paced tale about Nancy, a middle-aged divorcée embarking on a salsa adventure — in part inspired by the author’s own experience signing up solo for dance classes after college.

“Nancy, the story’s protagonist, emerged from a writing prompt in my very first class for my graduate writing degree, Rocchi says. In mere minutes, her voice — along with her fears, quirks, and hopes — appeared on the page, vibrant and undeniable, and I knew I had to follow her wherever she led me not where I led her. Through every draft of ‘Café Rumba’ and there have been many — I’ve rooted for Nancy to take a risk and thrive. I hope Post readers will feel the same and come to love her as much as I do.”

Since receiving an M.A. in Writing from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, Rocchi has published short stories in Mulberry Fork Review and Bourbon Penn literary journals as well as poetry and essays on spirituality on her website ( But “Open Season at the Café Rumba” is her first story published in a national magazine.

“To my fellow writers out there, bear this in mind: My story received 18 rejections before reaching The Saturday Evening Post,” Rocchi says. “Whatever you do, keep the faith — and keep submitting! The world wants to hear your voice.”

Meet the Runners-Up

Benjamin Kilgore
(Courtesy Benjamin Kilgore)

Benjamin Kilgore

Title:Into Each Life

Storyline: A boy befriends the filly tethered to a pole in his backyard — both longing to break free from the silence around them.

Bio: First short story published by a national magazine; 2017 Glimmer Train Very Short Fiction Contest honorable mention; 2016 Great American Fiction Contest honorable mention.

Michelle Reiter
(Courtesy Michelle Reiter)

Michelle Reiter

Title:Lloyd and Mary

Storyline: A successful real estate agent and his wife live life by rote until an unbearable loss shatters their well-ordered world.

Bio: First short story published by a national magazine; 2008 Associated Press award for humor columns; 2014 Frederick Buechner Award for excellence in writing.

Myrna West
(Courtesy Myrna West)

Myrna West


Storyline: In 1966, Kelly is finishing her sabbatical in southern Turkey, a place that would disrupt her life forever.

Bio: Great American Fiction Contest runner-up in 2015 and honorable mention in 2017; honorable mention 2015 Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award.

Bari Lynn Hein
(Courtesy Bari Lynn Hein)

Bari Lynn Hein

Title: “Skyscrapers

Storyline: Nursing an injury, Kate stares out the window of her 43rd-floor apartment and notices a face staring back.

Bio: First short story published by a national magazine; 2016 daCunha Editors Choice Award. For more, visit

Donna Baier Stein
(Courtesy Donna Baier Stein)

Donna Baier Stein

Title:A Landing Called Compromise

Storyline: Martha Blalock never liked Zula Blix, who flirts with every man in New Madrid Baptist Church, but soon both recognize what they have to lose.

Bio: Published work has appeared in Writers Digest, Virginia Quarterly Review, New York Quarterly, and many other publications. Her first novel, The Silver Baron’s Wife, was released in 2016, and her story collection Sympathetic People in 2015. For more, visit

Read the Best!

Post editors are delighted by the storytelling and fine writing of this year’s entrants. We’ve compiled the best stories our winner, runners-up, and honorable mentions in an e-book, available on your favorite platforms for $3.99. Order now at



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  1. I just read Cafe Rumba and thoroughly enjoyed it. It brought back memories of taking my wife to a salsa dance club in mid-70’s New Jersey. She is Puerto Rican and apparently inherited dancing genes from a long line of Caribbean dancers. I am descended from a long line of Japanese, who inherited two left feet. It made no difference that I religiously watched American Bandstand from 1957 through the 60’s. I can relate to Julia’s wonderful story and hope this is the beginning of a long, successful career.

  2. Your magazine said the runner-up stories would appear here on the website, and they should all appear NOW. It’s false advertising to say that you can read the stories online, then to be told here that they will appear only one per week. Please reconsider and run all the stories online NOW. I am also a very disappointed subscriber.

  3. Hi Gerry, The stories from the runners up will appear each Friday, starting on January 5.

  4. I subscribe to the SEP, read the winning short story and went to your site to read the others. I’ve searched, but can’t find the links to the runner up winner’s stories.

  5. Congratulations to everyone here. I’m looking forward to reading all your stories. Julia, I just read your story and added my comment. Benjamin, your story involves a young horse which sounds wonderful. Love animals, especially dogs, horses, pigs, goats, dolphins, elephants, leopards, tropical fish and more. I’m dog sitting two Dobermans (Espresso & Kaluah) and a big tank of about 8 tropical fish—-including an eel, this weekend.

    The POST has been doing great stories and pictorials on animals the past few years in the magazine and online. I just saw the beautiful new buffalo cover yesterday in fact. Lookin’ forward to getting my new issue. New Year’s Eve? Not so much. (Sometimes white lies ARE necessary to get out of things.)


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