From Worst to First: Literary Award Marks the Pits of Prose

July 31, 2007

The winner of this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which recognizes the best worst opening sentence of an imagined novel, took the prize on the strength of an endless appositive, rambling pedantry, impending doom, and, in the end, toilet humor.

The victor in the contest, which this year marked its 25th year, was announced on Monday by San Jose State University’s department of English and comparative literature. The department also announced such a host of runners-up, winners in obscure subcategories, and “dishonorable mentions” that it seems unlikely that any entrant was denied at least some form of recognition.

Pride of place, however, was accorded to Jim Gleeson, 47, a “media technician” in Madison, Wis., who wrote: “Gerald began — but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them ‘permanently’ meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash — to pee.”

The contest honors the memory of the 19th-century writer Edward George Earl Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford began, “It was a dark and stormy night.” —Andrew Mytelka