Into the Black: A Short Fiction Contest With a Big Prize

cara rose defabio
8 min readSep 6, 2017


***********Submissions are now closed. The winner will be announced in January 2018****************

The future of work has never seemed so uncertain. Automation is knocking on the door and already too many Americans are living paycheck to paycheck, unable to meet their monthly expenses and unable to envision a different fate for themselves. The Economic Security Project is looking for new, bold ways to bring all Americans into a place of economic stability; out of the red and into the black.

To do this, we are launching a short story contest like no other — one that uses speculative fiction as a tool to imagine a future of economic security and rewards the winner with financial stability of their own.

What might a world look like where all of our most basic needs are met? In 5,000 words or less, we want you to explore the impacts of a basic income on individual lives and on society at large. To be clear, we are not expecting you to draft economic policy, but hope to ignite debate around new economies with stories that offer nuanced critique and evidence of impact. Writers may want to address how this economic policy could shift relationships of power, or if economic liberation is even possible without first addressing racial and gender justice. Writers may consider universality (i.e., whether this benefit applies to everyone), investigate the community impact, and even give this economic idea a new name.

The most compelling story will change hearts and minds, and ultimately the life of the author; the grand prize winner will receive a basic income of $12,000 over the next year.

People are turning to the idea of a basic income both to fight against poverty and joblessness, and to provide a springboard to opportunity, with all the potential societal benefits that would come with it. While academics, politicians, and journalists debate the specifics of policy, we need to reach beyond bar graphs. Into the Black is a short story contest that asks you, the writer, to use your imagination to reach beyond the data.

We will be looking for stories that satisfy a few criteria:

  • Unconditional Funds — no one should be able to tell a recipient how to spend the money
  • Basic Needs — the money should be enough to cover one’s basic needs

The criteria are vague for a reason: we want you to define what basic needs are and examine the conditions under which they could be met. We are not looking for a simple utopia in which basic income solves all of our problems. We want compelling stories. We recognize that any social change as fundamental as this one will be both complicated and complex. We want the best story to win.

Joining us are an impressive group of judges representing a wide range of interests and smarts on the matter:

Jenna Wortham, The New York Times

Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

Hannu Rajaniemi, Author of The Quantum Thief & forthcoming Summerland

Walidah Imarisha, Co-editor of Octavia’s Brood

David Barr Kirtley, Host of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy

Keri Putnam, Executive Director at Sundance Institute

Tim Hwang, Director, Ethics and Governance of AI Fund

Angelina Burnett, television writer and producer for Halt and Catch Fire, The Americans

James Cham, partner at Bloomberg Beta

Natalie Foster, co-chair Economic Security Project

Mike Krieger, co-founder and CTO of Instagram

Evan Narcisse, Senior Staff Writer for io9

Submissions are due November 1st, 2017 and we will be announcing the winner in January of 2018. The grand prize winning story will be published on Gizmodo’s io9. This prize is just the beginning of a larger story, a trial in how a basic income could change the work life of a creative. We are eager to follow the winning author through their year of support to be able to tell that story.

They say if you want to change the culture, you need to change the narrative. Speculative fiction can be a powerful agent of change, and we are counting on you to show us what is possible. Can we build a new world on the back of capitalism? Will our internal lives dramatically shift once no one is burdened by economic uncertainty? How might our future unfold? Take us there.

Click here to submit your story.


What is a basic income?

A basic income is a regular, recurring cash payment delivered to individuals, unconditionally.

Some think this payment should be universal and go to everyone, some think that it should take the form of an income floor to ensure no one slips into poverty, still others think it might look more like a tax break; we are interested in examining all paths forward that would secure everyone’s economic stability.

There’s been a lot of ink spilled on basic income in the last few months, but here are a few to get you started:

What do you mean by ‘unconditional funds’?

One of the fundamental tenants of the basic income movement is that the majority of people are capable of meeting their needs when provided with the means and opportunity. One of the most potent arguments for unconditional cash is that it can be used for anything from fixing your car to putting dinner on the table. How people use the money they receive should be up to them.

What do you mean by ‘basic needs’?

This will be different for everyone. Some may think that basic needs cover food, clothing and shelter. Others might find that in order for a basic income to have the desired effect, you must first ensure universal health care. We want to know how you understand the pressures of survival, and what might happen when you are free of them.

Does my story have to be set in a basic income utopia?

No! In fact, much of our favorite sci fi is dystopic, and we understand that the conflict that creates can be attractive. However, we have a feeling that even if a basic income leads to a kind of utopia, humans will find a way to create drama and bring tension to a story. We think both utopias and dystopias have things to teach us.

Does it matter when my story is set? Nope.

Does my story need to be set in the United States? Not at all.

What speculative fiction stories do you think examine the economy well?

The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler

Mars Trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson

Makers, Cory Doctorow

The Dispossessed, Ursula K Le Guin

Rainbows End, Verner Vinge

What is the Economic Security Project?

The Economic Security Project is a two-year fund to support exploration and experimentation with unconditional cash stipends. We are funding projects like academic research, state and local campaigns, and cultural initiatives around economic security. The Economic Security Project is co-chaired by future of work instigator Natalie Foster, Facebook Cofounder Chris Hughes, and Roosevelt Institute Fellow Dorian Warren.



1) Winning stories will be published online. The grand prize winner will be published on Gizmodo’s io9 at The short list winners will be published either on the Economic Security Project website and/or io9.

2) Short list winners will receive $1,000 upon publication (each, a “Short List Prize”). The number of short list winners will be no fewer than three and no more than ten, and is subject to change by the judges.

3) The grand prize winner will receive $12,000 over 2018 in $1,000 per month payments beginning 2/1/2018, as well as airfare and accommodations to attend an awards dinner in San Francisco, date tbd (the “Grand Prize”).

4) By accepting the Grand Prize, the winner agrees to make themselves available for filmed interviews and other media opportunities tracing the impact of the prize on their creative process, as well as public relations appearances related to the broader Economic Security Project wherever possible for the duration of 2018. Any appearances will be mutually agreed upon and at the expense of Economic Security Project.

Timing and Formatting

1) Submission Deadline: All entries must be received through our Submittable page by November 1st, 2017. Once submitted, changes to entries will not be allowed.

2) Evaluation Phase: Entries will be reviewed through November and December

3) Announcement: Winners will be announced in January, 2018

4) Disclaimer: The judges reserve the right to extend the submission deadline, etc.


1) The contest is open to writers living in the United States, writing in English, and age 18 or over at the time of submission

2) The story must not contain more than 5,000 words. The word count should be listed on the story and must be precise

3) No more than one story per author or group of co-authors may be submitted

4) The story must be submitted anonymously through our Submittable page

5) The story must not be previously published

6) The story must be original and not infringe on any existing copyright


1) Entrants retain all ownership rights and, if applicable, copyrights in their submissions.

2) By accepting a prize (whether a Short List Prize or the Grand Prize), each entrant of a winning submission hereby grants Hopewell Fund, as fiscal sponsor of the Economic Security Project, the exclusive first worldwide right to publish the submission, with such exclusivity to commence on the date of the entrant’s acceptance of a prize and continue for one year thereafter (the “Exclusive Period”); following the Exclusive Period, entrant grants to Hopewell Fund and its designees (including Gizmodo Media Group, LLC) the non-exclusive, perpetual, worldwide, non-revocable, freely transferable and sub-licensable right to the submission, for use in all media now known or later discovered.

Other Terms and Conditions

1) By submitting a story, each entrant represents and warrants that their submission is an original work of authorship, and that entrant owns all intellectual property rights in and to the same. Each entrant agrees to indemnify and hold harmless Hopewell Fund and Gizmodo Media Group, LLC from and against any and all claims, losses, liabilities and/or damages arising out of or relating to such entrant’s submission infringing upon a third-party’s intellectual property rights.

2) All Short List Prize winners and the Grand Prize winner agree that failure to abide by the any of the Official Rules (including Grand Prize winner’s failure to attend the required appearances, or any entrant’s submission infringing upon a third-party’s intellectual property rights) may, in Hopewell Fund’s sole discretion, result in revocation of such winner’s prize, and winner may be required to repay the full amount of the Short List Prize or Grand Prize, as applicable.



cara rose defabio

writer. performer. culture craving emoji poet.