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Sledgehammer at Burning Man

We’re very excited that Sledgehammer was represented at Burning Man this year. 2012 Individual Winner Courtney Sherwood attended the annual arts festival with golden sledgehammers as prizes for the first-ever Burning Man Mini-Sledgehammers. Here’s her report.

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***
Nothing at Burning Man ever goes quite as planned, and my attempt to bring two 36-minute Sledgehammer contests to the Nevada desert this year proved no exception. I made plans with organizers of two different camps to hold different competitions over the course of the week.
The first 1,000 or so events submitted to the official guide are included in print listed distributed to everyone in attendance, and organizers of the rest have to hope and pray that their events find an audience. Somehow, one of the contests made it to the guide and the other didn’t. It’s no coincidence, then, that dozens of people showed up for the first contest, and nobody made it to the second.
ImageThe official meet and greet for the first-ever Get Lit(erary) at Burning Man collaboration took place immediately before the Sledgehammer competition, so I had to run to get to the contest site on time, and when I arrived there were at least 40-50 people already waiting to go. Some had started writing without any direction from me, and one person spoke up to say that they had agreed to write about Jane Austin clones.
Rather than halt the action that was already under way, I decided to go with the flow. So I stepped to the microphone and asked everyone to take a quick break from writing while I introduced myself and explained how Sledgehammer works in the real world. I told everyone that they had 36 minutes to write a story that incorporated the prompt they had chosen together — Jane Austin clones — and two prompts of my own — burlesque and the phrase “mental floss.” Then I stepped back and turned on the timer.Image
When time ran out, I invited anybody who was interested  to step up and read. So many people raised their hands that I imposed a three-minute time limit. According to my notes, at least 19 people opted to share their stories, and plenty of other people wrote but did not read outloud.
Within 1-2 stories, it became clear that nobody had heard me say “mental floss.” Not a single story incorporated that phrase. So I judged according to these criteria:
1- use of the other two prompts.
2- beginning, middle and end.
3- originality (a few stories that seemed original at first came  to seem less original when other people stepped to the mic with very similar plots and phrasing)
4- audience reaction.
5- arbitrary caprice.
By the time everyone had read, we had been there for close to two hours, and we were running out of stage time — musicians were scheduled to perform in the space we occupied. There were so many entertaining and bizarre stories that I knew it would be impossible to go through my notes and give a completely fair and just ruling, so I quickly chose three people as winners who had scored well during the reading, but I also emphasized before the audience that I could not vouch for the fairness of my judgment, and that many, many people had told excellent stories.
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After we wrapped up the event, the manager of the stage —  the event was at the Lost Penguin Cafe — came up to tell me that we’d drawn one of the biggest crowds of the day, and said he’d loved to host Sledgehammer again next year. I thanked him for hosting, and promised to get there early and to be better prepared if we do it again.
***
Thanks for hosting it, Courtney and Lost Penguin Cafe! We look forward to seeing what comes up next year.
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