Writing contest aims to capture San Diego pandemic experiences

San Diego Decameron Project
The contest is limited to local authors.
(San Diego Public Library)

Decameron Project modeled after book of 14th Century Black Death stories


San Diego writers have until Nov. 1 to submit stories for a collection designed to capture what it was like to live here during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The San Diego Decameron Project takes its name from a book, “The Decameron,” written by Giovanni Boccaccio in Florence, Italy in about 1350, when Europe was being ravaged by the bubonic plaque known as the Black Death.

In the book, 10 young people go into isolation in a villa near Florence and pass the time by telling stories, one per person per day, for a total of 100 tales. It’s mostly escapist fare — they dance around the death that sent them fleeing — but the way they talk about other things, including love, fortune and willpower, illuminates the devastation.

San Diego’s version also aims to collect 100 stories, either fiction or non-fiction, according to the organizers: The San Diego Public Library, Write Out Loud, La Jolla Historical Society, and San Diego Writers, INK.

“Genre, tone, and subject are entirely up to you,” according to the contest rules. “The only content requirement is that your story be based loosely around the theme of the current pandemic.”

The contest is limited to writers who live in San Diego County. One entry per person. Works have to be unpublished and no longer than 1,000 words.

Complete rules and an entry form can be found on the library’s website at Entries are due by 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 1. The first 500 submissions will be judged.

Winning stories will be posted on the sponsoring organizations’ websites. The most compelling ones will be read by Write Out Loud actors and presented either in person or in virtual performances next year, according to the organizers.

Similar projects have cropped up this year in San Diego and elsewhere. On its website, the San Diego History Center has been inviting people to “Tell Us Your Story” since late March and plans to add the submissions to its permanent collection.

In July, the New York Times Magazine published a Decameron Project, “inspired by the moment,” that featured 29 new short stories by prominent writers.

“Reading stories in difficult times is a way to understand those times,” essayist Rivka Galchen wrote in her introduction to the collection, “and also a way to persevere through them.”

— John Wilkens is a reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune