The Bulwer-Lytton Award is truly a tournament after this blog’s heart. It’s an annual competition held by the English department of San Jose State University, and instructs contestants to come up with the most absolutely horrible opening line to a story that their minds can conceive of. No “Call me Ishmael”, no “It was a cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” Any semblance of talent or virtue is immediately discarded into the circular filing bin, though it should be noted that it takes a special kind of talent to intentionally butcher the written language as required.
The contest is named after Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, author of the famous opening line, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Readers may remember this as Snoopy’s favorite introductory sentence during his writing pursuits. It comes from the novel Paul Clifford, and is widely considered to be a prime example of literary cliché. The contestant who manages to exceed it over all others receives $250, and the proud knowledge that he or she has constructed a written passage so atrocious that it has been proven to cause blindness in lab mice.
Some past winners (or losers, depending on your point of view) of the Bulwer-Lytton Award include:
The camel died quite suddenly on the second day, and Selena fretted sulkily and, buffing her already impeccable nails–not for the first time since the journey began–pondered snidely if this would dissolve into a vignette of minor inconveniences like all the other holidays spent with Basil.
– Gail Cain, San Francisco, California (1983 Winner)
Dolores breezed along the surface of her life like a flat stone forever skipping across smooth water, rippling reality sporadically but oblivious to it consistently, until she finally lost momentum, sank, and due to an overdose of fluoride as a child which caused her to lie forever on the floor of her life as useless as an appendix and as lonely as a five-hundred-pound barbell in a steroid-free fitness center.
-Linda Vernon, Newark, California (1990 Winner)
The moment he laid eyes on the lifeless body of the nude socialite sprawled across the bathroom floor, Detective Leary knew she had committed suicide by grasping the cap on the tamper-proof bottle, pushing down and twisting while she kept her thumb firmly pressed against the spot the arrow pointed to, until she hit the exact spot where the tab clicks into place, allowing her to remove the cap and swallow the entire contents of the bottle, thus ending her life.
– Artie Kalemeris, Fairfax, Virginia (1997 Winner)
They had but one last remaining night together, so they embraced each other as tightly as that two-flavor entwined string cheese that is orange and yellowish-white, the orange probably being a bland Cheddar and the white… Mozzarella, although it could possibly be Provolone or just plain American, as it really doesn’t taste distinctly dissimilar from the orange, yet they would have you believe it does by coloring it differently.
– Mariann Simms, Wetumpka, AL (2003 Winner)
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
– Dan McKay, Fargo, ND (2005 Winner)
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