In it to win it

Junior wins Chicago Sun Times story contest


Drawing by Fiona Kogan ’22

Bernadette Schwegel’s ‘22 story, “Heroes do Exist,” was one of seven winners for the recent Chicago Sun Times short story contest.

Schwegel said she was first made aware of the competition through her mother in July. She believed it would make for a pleasant activity during quarantine. Since the contest’s theme was heroism, Schwegel said she gained inspiration at a family dinner when a younger cousin mentioned his skepticism in superheroes. 

Like her cousin, Schwegel’s main character doubted the existence of heroes. The story followed the character’s journey from this suspicion to eventually realizing that heroes are common people – they don’t necessarily have to be super. 

“A lot of people who talk to me have the common misconception that heroism means having superpowers or being a crime-stopper from comic books,” said Schwegel. “The contest gave me an opportunity to write about how heroism isn’t limited to that and it actually applies to small acts of kindness that don’t get media or serious publication coverage. Heroism has a lot of different meanings to a lot of different people.”

Once Schwegel’s story was written and submitted, the selected judges reviewed the story. After their deliberation, it was decided that she was one of seven winners and the only high school winner according to the Chicago Sun Times. The Sun Times said winners will have their pieces appear in their newspaper. 

One of Schwegel’s friends who read the story, Amelia Harding ‘22, said she was very excited for her friend’s win, also including her own thoughts on the story. 

“I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of genre, length, and topic, which I think made the story more enjoyable,” said Harding. “The best part was the ending because it tied the whole story together – it had a great conclusion. I also liked the message behind the story.”

Chicago Sun Times had famous writers act as judges for the contest. The newspaper listed it’s judges: Veronica Roth, author of the Divergent series; Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street; Sara Paretsky, author of the bestselling V.I. Warshawski crime novels; and Chris Abani, novelist and poet. 

“I was completely shocked that the judges were authors whose work I’ve read before,” said Schwegel. “It was a star-struck moment when I found out.”

As her work was in the eyes of prominent writers, the judges critiqued Bernadette’s story. 

“[Schwegel’s] writing demonstrates a strong level of skill with language, which makes it a pleasure to read,” said Paretksy, one of the judges. 

Schwegel said the positive notes were unexpected and were a “pleasant surprise.”

Schwegel’s brother, Benedict Schwegel ‘21, said her dialogue was not the only reason she won; the message of her story was what spoke to him.

“Bernadette is an amazing writer and has written multiple books before,” said Benedict. “She loves to write and wants to make people happy with her writing.”