When retired Evanston Township High School English teacher Bruce Mitchell presented  checks totaling $1,000 to three ETHS juniors Monday afternoon, it was the third consecutive year that an all-male short story club founded in Evanston 22 years ago has provided a cash award for short-story writing at the school.

In presenting the award at the school’s annual Pen & Press Tea, Mitchell alluded to the “12 old men” who formed what is unofficially known as the Evanston Men’s Short Story Club that got its start when a group of Evanston neighbors thought about forming a book club but decided they did not have time to read a book each month.

Instead, the group chose to read short stories. On a rotating basis, each member serves as host for the monthly meeting and selects three short stories for the group to read. The host for the meeting leads the discussion of the stories, which is followed by coffee and dessert to conclude the evening.

Typically once a year, the men will write their own stories and read them aloud at their meeting. Because they take the summer off, they will occasionally assign a book to read for the September meeting when their monthly schedule resumes.

The group has no officers, no bylaws, no Facebook page, nor a website.

Three years ago, one of the members suggested that they each pitch in $100 or more to establish a fund to award short-story writing at the high school.

Mitchell met with his former colleagues in the ETHS English Department to enlist their cooperation.

Because so many awards at the school go to seniors, Mitchell suggested that the award be given only to members of the junior class, who still have another year of high school in which to hone their writing skills.

As stories are submitted for the competition, each is assigned a number so that the judges are unaware of the names of the authors. Each story is read by three English teachers, who then submit what they consider the top six stories to the club for their determination of the winners.

Mitchell told the audience Monday that the men become very passionate in their discussion of each of the finalists and that sometimes two or more ballots are required before the ultimate winners are selected.

Most of the members show up at the annual Pen & Press Tea to learn the identity of their winners and to talk with them in person. They particularly enjoy seeing how their junior winners receive numerous awards in their senior year, which some of the men consider as validation of their choice of the previous year.

“It is our hope, and expectation,” said Mitchell, who retired several years ago after teaching for 32 years at the school, “that freshmen and sophomores will take notice of the awards and will anticipate entering the competition when they reach their junior year.”

Monday, the group presented the top award, of $600, to Rebecca Figlio, along with two $200 awards to runners-up Reed Collins and Abigail Seef.

The Bruce E. Mitchell Short Story Award is a donor-advised fund that is managed by the Evanston Community Foundation.

Photo: Rebecca Figlio receives a check for $600 from Mitchell at the Pen & Press Tea in the ETHS auditorium.

Charles Bartling

A resident of Evanston since 1975, Chuck Bartling holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and has extensive experience as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers, radio...

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