In Memory of John Burns

This year's contest is in memory of John Burns.

It is with sadness that I must report that our longtime contest judge John Burns passed away this year during the judging period.

He was an amazing man; a father and husband, a Navy captain who had served active duty in WWII, a staunch environmentalist, an accomplished author and editor, and (most importantly) a dedicated teacher of literature and the English language. For over six decades he inspired faculty and students alike, and even when he retired as the head of the Saugus English Department, he continued to volunteer his time and talents to encourage others to write and help them become better writers.

His involvement with this contest serves as just one example. He was only one of two judges to sign on for all twelve years, and I was consistently amazed with his aplomb; nothing would ever shake him. When interviewed by the Boston Globe about John Burns, a colleague described him as "unflappable". This word describes him well.

He wrote about his own experiences as a contest judge in the book Of Time and the River. I will not repeat his article here, but will add a few observations. He was a reading machine; even in his 90s he could still pull an all-nighter reading and discuss entries with clarity and insight the following day. Although a grammarian, he excelled at seeing through surface mistakes to the soul of the story beneath what could sometimes be a morass. His attitude toward stories was refreshingly youthful. Far from being conservative, on more than one occasion he championed a story that some of the younger judges thought too racy to include in the winner's circle. There was also a funny year a contestant unknowingly set a story directly outside John's home. At that time John had not yet publicly declared that he was a judge, and the contestant was not local and had only semi-randomly picked his location from a map (he wanted a cliff and a pond in a reasonably remote part of Saugus). John found this extremely amusing, especially after the contest when I revealed to him the fact that it all was just coincidence.

He shared my personal belief that computers and the Internet could help better literature, and he noted with excitement what he perceived to be an overall improvement in quality of entries from year to year. He adapted well as both the number of entries increased and contest communications started becoming more electronic. He was also intrigued by the concept of interactive fiction and would have been tickled to see that we got three interactive fiction entries this year.

He was a unique individual and will be missed. It is with both thanks and respect for his years of skillful, wise judging that we dedicate this year's contest to the memory of my friend, John Burns.

- Eric W. Brown
(contest founder)