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This Side of Reality

Hanh Hoang's haunting tale evokes a parental nightmare—and lands her short short story on top of the heap.

Six years ago, Hanh Hoang faced a dilemma common to many women: How to care for her infant while still meeting the rest of societal demands. It was during this time that she penned the dystopian tale "Field of Heads."

Her story won the grand prize in the 5th Annual Writer's Digest Short Short Story Competition, rising to the top of more than 10,000 entries and earning her a $3,000 cash prize. (Read the story in full on the next page.)

Hoang's story is loosely based on a Chinese urban myth. Although the story isn't grounded in reality, the reader is left with the haunting feeling that it could be, in a style typical of magic realism. "There's a psychological truth," Hoang says. "It's very hard to live in modern society where you're isolated and have to take care of a child and work."

Currently enrolled in an M.F.A. program at St. Mary's College in California, Hoang, 48, is now writing full time. She came to writing late, she says, because it was difficult for her to choose a language in which to write. Her primary language is Vietnamese; her secondary is French. English is third on the list.

She was a young girl in Saigon during the Vietnam War, and her early experiences as a child of war left their mark on her formation as a writer. "My writing uses a lot of violence and ghosts, and I write about the impact of violence on women and children," she says. "I'm very aware of my position as a woman in the world."

Hoang is most influenced by the writers of the Latin American magic realism school, as well as the Vietnamese and French literature she studied as a child. She's an avid student of poetry, evident in her strong visual language and spare prose. "I try to write in a poetic way—to tell an entertaining story that carries some truth in it—but also to write in a beautiful language," she says.

She's currently working on completing a short-story collection, Ghosts in a Coconut Field. "Field of Heads" will be included in the collection.

Read "Field of Heads."
See the entire list of winners.

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