Stack Awards 2019: Best Original Fiction shortlist

by Kitty Drake in October 2019
Share on Facebook, Twitter or Copy Link

Perhaps the most enjoyable category to shortlist, the lineup for Best Original Fiction includes stories about porn, Boris Johnson and Polish Christmas carp. It was really exciting to see some of the literary magazines we listed as the best indie lit in the world right now entering the awards. We received our highest number of entries ever this year, and this selection is extremely strong.

Our judges for this category are Ailah Ahmed, editorial director of Little, Brown and Virago Press, and Guardian books news editor Sian Cain. Find out more about them on our awards page, and scroll down to see the 15 magazines shortlisted for this category.

American Chordata | Jersey City, NJ

Mixing short stories and poetry with photography, American Chordata has a way of putting together words and images that feels almost like collage: it’s brash, and thrillingly new. ‘From the Lost City of Hurtlandtis to the Streets of Helldorado (or, Franco)’, by Rémy Ngamije, is a vivid portrait of male friendship, breakups and guilt.

Berlin Quarterly | Berlin

Describing itself as a ‘European review of culture’, Berlin Quarterly was born out of love for English literary magazines, but its outlook feels far more expansive. The shortlisted story, ‘Rain’ by Eloghosa Osunde, is about a dressmaker in Lagos who designs clothes beautiful enough to detract from the scandals of her high society customers: “What did it take to divert poisonous attention? Beauty. Sinful amounts of it.”

Ecotone | Wilmington, NC

Ecotone won Best Original Fiction last year so it’s wonderful to see their two most recent issues on the shortlist again. ‘Parkway’ in the fall/winter 2018 edition is a beautiful, painful story by Leah Hampton, about a park ranger whose work requires more fortitude than we might imagine. “People use parks for selfish reasons”, a colleague explains to the protagonist when she finds her first dead body, “There’s more murders, starved dogs, more toddlers slipping off cliffs, more sadness than anybody knows.”

Ecotone | Wilmington, NC

In the excellent Spring/Summer ’19 issue, the shortlisted story is ‘Cave Organ’. About a man who works as a cave tour guide, this is a quietly moving reflection on loss: “The worry kept chewing at Randy; and he started drinking more to soften it, started to drink a little during the day, on the job even”.

Firewords | Glasgow

A magazine of “fiery fiction and poetry”, the theme for this issue is Power. ‘Little Jacques and the Bad Man’ is a disturbing micro-story by Audrey Kalman about a woman from social services visiting a young family.

Index on Censorship | London

Index on Censorship is a 47-year-old title dedicated to promoting freedom of expression. Neema Komba’s story ‘Let Them Eat Fruit Cake’ is about a soon to be bride whose single wedding day wish is not to eat fruit cake. This is more complicated than it might seem.



The Lifted Brow | Melbourne

A self-titled “quarterly attack journal”, The Lifted Brow features new writing from Australia and the world. ‘The Poison Garden’ is a compulsive short story with eery characterisation: “Esme had the type of face men like best: far apart eyes, a small nose, a wide mouth, a face like another face that has been squished and stretched under a spatula or the palm of a hand”.

Mal | London

Made in collaboration with the Serpentine Galleries, Mal is a quarterly journal of sexuality and erotics. ‘Beyond Criticism’ is the first story in Issue 4: Real Girls. Opening with a covert Pornhub viewing session on a train, this is an exquisite and often toe-curlingly uncomfortable account of prejudice and culpability in the age of #MeToo.

Mayday | Copenhagen

Taking in everything from right-wing extremism to Kundalini yoga, Mayday is a magazine about new ways of thinking. In this fourth issue, there’s a series of tiny sci-fi stories imagining alternative futures.


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Mayday (@getmayday) on

Migrant Journal | London

Started in 2015 to counter the dominant narrative around migration, Migrant Journal’s sixth and final issue features a wonderful imagining of the origins of the Polish Christmas carp — a fusion dish between Jewish, Polish, and  Soviet traditions.

Sand | Berlin

Editor Jake Schneider opens the nineteenth edition of Sand with an account of finding, at his local U-Bahn station in Berlin, a poster from the newly renamed “Homeland” Ministry, offering to pay people to leave their homes in Germany and return to their “homelands”. An issue about us-and-them dynamics, the shortlisted story, ‘Citizen!’, is about Brexit, parenthood and Boris Johnson.

Sand | Berlin

‘Sweet Blood’ by Alex Luke was published in Sand’s eighteenth issue. About an unlikely connection between a Ghanian-American teen and an impoverished, elderly white Virginian, this is a story about the ghosts of racial violence, and how they snake their way into the present.

Somesuch Stories | London

The fourth issue of this UK literary journal is themed ‘redemption’. It’s a fabulous theme, especially now, when it feels like we’re all going to hell in a handcart. Daisy Johnson’s shortlisted story plays with our definitions of fiction: it’s part essay, part literary reimagination of Eve in the garden of Eden; Eve “horny and desperate and disappointed and loving and clever and weary and purposeful in her actions.”

South London Review of Hand Dryers | London

A delicious spoof of the London Review of Books, the South London Review of Hand Dryers is a dedicated literary review of, um, hand dryers. Editor Wedgley Snipes’ Classifieds section at the end of issue two is a totally unhinged series of ads for, among other things, used sellotape, gibbon meat, and an “Older woman, partially submerged in gravel”.

The Stinging Fly | Dublin

Sally Rooney is a contributing editor to this brilliant Irish literary magazine of new writing, and there’s an echo of her attention to the minute detail of how we see ourselves and are seen by others on these pages. In the shortlisted story, Harpies, our narrator describes herself: “I am small, brunette, and round. I crouch next to beauties like a full stop. I accentuate.”

Winners will be announced on November 14 at the Stack Awards ceremony at Somerset House. Tickets are available now.

Close Icon

Join our magazine club! Subscribe to Stack and every month we'll pick a different independent title and deliver it to your door. You never know what you'll get next...

Subscribe now