Introducing Jazz Fiction Writer Arya Jenkins
For 11 years, Jerry Jazz Musician has sponsored 33 Short Fiction Contests resulting in 30 different contest winners. During that time, I estimate that I have read and considered over 3,000 short stories.
The stories vary in content and quality, of course, and it has been my goal to publish the best story regardless of its theme. This has at times led to confusion by some writers over the years who believe that, since Jerry Jazz Musician‘s focus is on jazz history – and in particular within the confines and culture of mid-20th Century America – the winning story should always be about jazz or a character within that setting.
Unfortunately, while I and the panel of readers and judges have chosen several stories with “jazz” or “jazz culture” within its boundaries, most often the best stories are those not written about the narrow subject of jazz and the “culture of 20th Century America.” So, because they are frequently the best submitted, stories about human relationships, adventure, history, and the complexity of race will on occasion be selected as the winning entrant.
It is my opinion that jazz is a difficult art to portray in fiction. I have a very critical eye and seek an aesthetic in jazz fiction that is not unlike what I seek in jazz music itself – original, elegant, provocative, artful, and timeless. Many stories aim to meet those criteria but go unpublished because they don’t measure up to the high artistic bar set by great jazz artists. At the same time, I want to stress the importance of encouraging contest entrants to continue to submit their jazz-themed stories, because when an excellent story crosses my desk – and it does happen – it is like hearing a great tenor player for the first time. It can be incredibly rewarding for the reader, as it has been for me.
Recently, Arya Jenkins, a relatively new entrant to our contest, demonstrated the ability to consistently combine the aesthetics I wrote of above with a skilled and accessible writing style that I believe deserves the attention of our readers, and of the jazz community at large. Her July, 2012 entry, “So What” – a story about an adolescent girl who attempts to connect to her absent father through his jazz record collection – was chosen as the 30th winner of our Short Fiction Contest. When she followed that up with another quality entry with jazz music at its core, I reached out to her and we discussed her work, her passion for writing jazz fiction, and how she could potentially contribute to Jerry Jazz Musician on a more regular basis – because I feel there needs to be a place for jazz fiction.
I am pleased to report that the September 15, 2013 publication of “Soliloquy” is the first of three jazz short stories I have commissioned Arya to write exclusively for this blog, and they will be published within the next 12 months. Her stated goal is to write about jazz in a “highly personalized fashion as a way of celebrating and mining my own diversity, as well as exploring the genre.” I encourage you to read her work with your own critical eye, and hope you come to the same conclusion I have – that she is a gifted writer who utilizes jazz in her stories with an aesthetic sense worthy of the music and culture we respect, admire and cherish.