Can your life story fit inside a matchbook cover?

matchbook story contest
(The Library Shop)

The Library Shop in San Diego’s Central Library is accepting entries for its third annual short-short story contest.

Entries have to fit inside a matchbook cover. That leaves room for about 40 words, if the author uses 7-point font.

The winner receives a $50 gift card to the Library Shop, 50 matchbooks with the winning entry printed on them, publication in the library’s e-newsletter, and a temporary exhibit in the Central Library’s Hervey Family Rare Book Room, which is home to the institution’s tiny book collection.

Entries are due Nov. 15. The entry fee is $5, with all proceeds benefiting the library. Multiple entries are allowed. Entry forms are available online at

Entries can be on any topic and in any genre, including poetry. They have to be the original work of the person submitting it.

There is no word count, but entries must fit within the inside area of a standard matchbook, which is 1-5/16 inches wide by 1-4/16 inches high.

When they started the contest three years ago, library officials took their inspiration from the famously terse Ernest Hemingway, who according to lore was once challenged to come up with a story in just six words and wrote this: “For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

More than 200 people entered the inaugural competition. The winner came from Tara Gilboy, a local creative-writing teacher and author, who spun her entry from the titles of short stories by two famous writers, with a couple of nods to social media:

@ToBuildAFire replied to


These are junk.



Last year’s winner was Cristina Schaeffer: “The smell of garlic sizzling woke me up. Mom was home. Hadn’t seen her in four days. Mahjong. Sometimes she won, mostly she didn’t. I dressed for school. At least I got fried rice and spam this morning.”

Elma Trinidad captured second place with this: “I couldn’t cross you/Two parallel lines onwards upwards/never meeting again.”

Third place went to Marilyn Rudoff, who wrote, “My brain cracking open in a wily fire sparks small illuminations some call art.”

People who have questions about the contest can reach library officials by email at or by phone at 619-236-5802.