At the April 6th ceremony, we revealed the winners and finalists of the 2015 student literary awards. We received a robust 158 entries this year—the judging was not easy! Read on for the verdicts and the judges’ generous comments.
The Goronwy Owen Prize for a collection of poems judged by Shane McCrae, assistant professor of poetry at Oberlin College and author of the books Mule, Blood, and Forgiveness, Forgiveness.
“I was heartened by the variety I saw in these submissions. Refreshingly, none of these poems struck me as wholly insular, as undergraduate poems can often seem. These were exciting, intelligent poems.”
First place: "Odes Toward Aphasia" by Hannah Berk: "These poems are syntactically thrilling and new. But, crucially, they don’t rely on their syntax for their successes—rather, they succeed because they are whole poems, not merely sites for syntactical innovation."
Second place: “Places and People” by Claire Gillespie. "This is a beautiful poem. And it came so close to winning! The poet seems fully in command of their forms, and comfortable both with open structures and the most rigidly formal structures. But maybe the most compelling thing about this poem is that the poet seems to have translated real human emotion into poetry without falsifying or diminishing it."
Third place: “The Diving Bell and the Bottom” by Matthew Schroeder: "This poem is grippingly experimental, and yet generates a surprising amount of momentum as it goes along. To me, it's the most sonically engrossing of the entries."
Honorable mention: “From Here and There (and to the Moon)” by Molly Greer
Finalists: Jennie Pajerowski, “Poetry Collection”; Kathryn Darling, “Whale Song”; Victoria Chaitoff, “Great and Terrible Musings of the Entirely Unqualified”; Allister Nelson, “Black Hound Blues”
The Tiberius Gracchus Jones Prize for Nonfiction judged by Cheston Knapp ‘04, managing editor of the eminent literary journal Tin House
"Reading this year's finalists for the Tiberius Gracchus Jones award for non-fiction I kept coming back to this quote from Virginia Woolf: 'Oh, yes, dear reader: the essay is alive. There is no reason to despair.' There was a remarkable range among the submissions, from profiles to lyric essays to essays written in the third person. William and Mary has managed to do it again, to enlist exciting new voices into the literary militia. See you all out on the battleground."
First: “Slayage" by Diana Floegel-- This tender and smart essay uses an obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer to explore the writer's fears about her father's mortality. The structure of the essay is ambitious and the emotions rich and well-proportioned--an impressive and difficult balance to pull off. The writing itself is confident, strong, and clear. Bravo.
Second: "On Mt. Constitution" by Natasha King -- A fine and delicate essay about a trip the writer took to Mount Constitution. The writer deftly explores the history and significance of mountain climbing, teasing out the more spiritual aspects of the pursuit.
Third: "Get Away from the Drum" by Michael Monaco-- Masquerading as a profile of his first drum teacher, this essay in fact wrestles with the passing of time and his growing up, becoming an adult. It's quite a package, a kind of two-fer. A laudable mix of material.
Honorable Mention: Ian Kirkwood, “Chronophobia”; Kathryn Darling, “Bliss”; Naiwen Tian, “As Long as Thirty Minutes”; Amber Bryant, “Bambi’s Fawn”
The Howard Scammon Prize for Drama judged by Terese Svoboda, acclaimed producer and author of more programs and books than can reasonably be listed here
“Complex plots, challenging characters, mature handling of subjects—congratulations to all of you!”
1st Place: Friendly Confines by Catherine Bailey: Friendly Confines is a darn good romantic story about a girl who comes to love her dead father only after she takes up with an old boyfriend. Terrible title. Follow the money—she gave up her job too easily. Mother a bit unrealized. Nice use of music as reference, excellent dialogue.
2nd Place: They Cage the Animals at Night by Victoria Chaitoff: They Cage the Animals at Night about an abused and abandoned boy named Jennings. Well plotted, good characterizations--and the screenplay manages a happy ending. Jennings could be a bit younger, and worry about his brother more. Pacing was admirable.
3rd Place: Unalive is Okay by Dana Wood: "Unalive with its happy ending! A lovely 40's style ghost story with a pyrrhic ending. Basement fear used appropriately-- and I loved using books for weapons. The genre screenplay broke its own conventions in interesting ways."
Honorable Mention: Aiming for Mars by Erin Lottes and Good Moorings by Kendall Berents: "Aiming for Mars had a good grasp of period slang and sense of locale. With its unusual subject matter, Good Moorings has the texture of a novel."
The Glenwood Clark Prize in Fiction judged by Julia Fierro, author of Cutting Teeth and founder/director of the Sackett Street Writers' Workshop in Brooklyn
1st: "Another One Bites the Dust" by Kendall Berents- What a gripping story. I was immediately pulled into the narrator's perspective and every implied emotion felt undeniably genuine. The quality of the detail choices concerning the pediatric cancer experience worked so hard to imply uniquely and concretely so that the reader feels invited into a very specific world and experience, one the reader would never have access to. The authenticity of perspective in Another One Bites the Dust makes it unforgettable.
2nd: "The Apotheosis of Margo by Natasha King"- What a success. Highly imaginative and clever, and full of ideas, but there is also a powerful emotional theme running through this wild story. It reminded me of Animal Farm, of course, but also of Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. The carefully crafted tone (fantastic choice to use all caps in certain phrases, as preached by Margo) is pitch perfect.
3rd: "Operation Good Samaritan" by Jonah Fishel- The thought and effort (and imagination!) put into this story is admirable. A brilliant execution of a very complex structure, which, in a lesser writer's hands, might be hard to follow, but I read with great intrigue as each part of the story revealed itself. Smart, entertaining, funny, provocative--quite an accomplishment.
“Fireflies" by Jennie Pajerowski- A mesmerizing story whose emotional weight pulses through the seemingly quiet surface. I admire the way this writer uses carefully chosen details--fireflies, sharpie markers, etc.--to imply subtly, but also concretely, so that the reader is left to the satisfying task of interpreting and piecing together the emotional heart of the story.
"Tunnel Vision" by Mia O’Niell - A moving portrait of a narrator under incredible familial pressure, accentuated by the fact that there is extra pressure to keep the father's illness a secret. The author does a great job of "guiding" the reader, transcending the natural limitations of 1st person POV, so that every detail feels both unique and concrete.
"Two and a Half Miles Deep" by Naiwen Tian - Interesting episodic structure allows the meaning of the story to accumulate, creating a unique sense of forward momentum. I really enjoyed the narrator's matter-of-fact tone, which, ironically, enhanced the sense of loss.
"Finding Thirteen" by Chelsea Blanco- Such a great surprising and inevitable ending, and the reader is led there through one skillfully executed dramatized scene after another. This writer has an advanced understanding of the importance of balancing exposition with dramatized scene, and the combination of dialogue, gesture, action and narrative "guiding" is impressive.
"Perry Jacobs Is A Slut" by Annabel McSpadden - A creative exploration of the complexity of a young woman's sexuality, and the fears--societal, personal, familial--that accompany it. The strong sense of urgency created through Perry's observations, interpretations, and, especially her imagination, does a great job of mimicking her increasing anxiety. The urgency also creates a pulsing momentum that propels the reader forward.
The Academy of American Poets Prize for a single poem judged by Sofia Starnes, former Poet Laureate of Virginia
"I’d like the rest of the participants to know that the reason I selected only one honorable mention was that the high quality of the field allowed for almost no differentiations among the rest of the poems, certainly not enough to separate one from another. I was very impressed with all of them.
"The language was remarkably rich in all the entries, and I was especially struck by the importance that all the writers placed on resonance and cadence, on the way sounds played off each other, paying particular attention to the possibilities of language. These writers seemed to share with me the belief that a critical distinction between poetry and prose is poetry’s obsession with language. (There are a few other distinctions, but this one is essential.) All of these poets responded to that demand.
"I noticed something else with satisfaction: the poets in this group—all of them—seemed to move away from ego to encompass a larger world of experience, reflecting a concern for more than their individual lives. All our poems are personal (of course); we write out of personal lives, but mature poets look beyond individual actions and emotions, seeking echoes or contrasts between their lives and the lives around them, ultimately making this or that unexpected connection, inviting the reader to participate in it. I commend these poets for attempting, and often succeeding, in doing so.
"Congratulations therefore to all of the poets whose work I had the pleasure and honor to read."
Winner: “Oświęcim, Poland: 2000,” by Dana Lotito: I was impressed by the focus of your poem, the selection of metaphor and imagery to convey its emotion, and the way you pared the experience down to its essence—all the more fitting, given the theme of the poem and the radical aloneness of its protagonist. I was deeply moved by it and am delighted to select it as the winning poem."
Second place: “Language Family,” by Hannah Berk: "I was drawn to your poem by the richness of the sensual world, superimposed on the world of an idea: the idea of relationship through language. What might be presented as an abstract thesis is supported here, verse after verse, by sensory experience. Overall, I found the poem both cerebral and warmly close to heart—an irresistible combination."
Third place: “Rooting Memory,” by Diana Floegel: "I found the “objective correlative”—the life of a tree to express the emotional and mental life of “Nana”—to be extremely effective. There are “roots” and “soft spots” in both experiences, as well as “sap” that has “seeped into synapses” (excellent resonances), among other attributes.
"The image of the beetles, with their turpentine-stained legs, that leads to the scene of obsessive scrubbing also is particularly powerful. And I like the closing line: the painful shift from “root” to “rot”, ameliorated only by the personal hope that Nana’s fall will somehow be cushioned by the forest floor."
Honorable Mention: “Fly to Paradise” by Lydia Brown: "I found the approach, the images, and the poem’s underlying narrative thread to be full of surprises; I never knew where the poem was going to take me, and I am a devotee of the fresh and the unexpected in poetry. What really “sold” me, however, was the closing stanza. I kept coming back to it, savoring its initial verse “Paradise does not demand my touch.” How wonderful that is! And then, I allowed myself to be lifted by the last image of “a handkerchief / pulled from a magician’s sleeve.” Another excellent line."
Finalists: "Black Arrows" by Alpha Barry, "Woman on a Roof" by Mary-Grace Rusnak, "The Parking Lot" by Elaine Edwards, "Agatha’s Journey" by Justin Ober, “Sun of January" by Michael Monaco, “River" by Naiwen Tian