Al Young title

2011 Bad Writing Prize Goes to Prof. Suzanne Fondrie; University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh


Prof. Sue Fondrie wins 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest

© Associated Press
Tue Jul 26, 2011 11:30am PDT

SAN JOSÉ, Calif. (AP) — A sentence in which tiny birds and the English language are both slaughtered took top honors Monday in an annual bad writing contest.

Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wis., won the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for her sentence comparing forgotten memories to dead sparrows, said San José State University Prof. Scott Rice. The contestant asks writers to submit the worst possible opening sentences to imaginary novels.

Fondrie wrote: “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

The University of Wisconsin professor’s 26-word sentence is the shortest grand prize winner in the contest’s 29-year history, Rice said.

Contest judges liked that Fondrie’s entry reminded them of the 1960s hit song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” which Rice described as an image that “made no more sense then than it does now.”

The contest is named after British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford begins with the oft-quoted opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.”

© United Feature Syndicate, Inc.
Lord Edward George Bulwer-Lytton | MFA in Creative Writing candidate Snoopy

“It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”
—  Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

The contest solicits entries in a variety of categories. John Doble of New York won in the historical fiction category:

“Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.”

To take the prize for best purple prose, Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, Maine, relied on a thesaurus’-worth of synonyms:

“As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.”

Related: Vampire author Charlaine Harris talks about her job


Delve into the Bulwer-Lytton Awards (including Dishonorable Mentions) at Facebook


2 Responses to “2011 Bad Writing Prize Goes to Prof. Suzanne Fondrie; University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh”

  1. Sue Fondrie Says:

    I appreciate the Bulwer-Lytton mention, Mr. Young. I’m looking forward to the fall semester starting, when my students have me as a writing instructor. Should be fun.

    Who’s the person in the picture by the typewriter? She’s much better looking than I am, so thanks!

  2. Al Says:

    Dear Sue Fondrie,

    I actually believed “the person in the picture by the typewriter” to be you. After combing the web for a Sue Fondrie likeness, I settled on this false image. Now that I know the truth, I’ll take it down at once — with an apology.

    Kindly accept my warm congratulations, though, on taking first prize in this year’s Bulwer-Lytton Contest for your fabulously bad prose. I know I’ll cite it when I teach again this fall as visiting writer at California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Given your unusual celebrity, you should have no trouble getting writing students to heed your do’s and don’ts.

    Thank you for taking the time to email me at

    All the best,

    PS: Breathing deeply, I’m launching another picture. Let me know if this is the “real” Sue Fondrie.

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