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2014 English Literary Awards

Following are the names, and the final judges' comments, of all those honored in the 2014 student literary contest awards ceremony last night. We had 150 submissions this year and many exceptionally strong finalists. An anthology of the first-, second-, and third-place winners will be published in time for commencement. Congratulations to all entrants for giving us such an incredible field of stories, poems, essays, and scripts to read.

THE GLENWOOD CLARK PRIZE IN FICTION  Judged by Cristina Henriquez, author of two books of fiction, Come Together, Fall Apart and The Half-Known World,  and a third novel, The Book of Unknown Americans, forthcoming in June from Riverhead Books.

Henriquez writes: "What must be in the water over at William & Mary? I've read a lot of undergraduate writing over the years, and I can't remember the last time I've seen so much talent assembled in one place. Among the finalists were stories that tackled earnestly and with conviction complex issues such as race (in the beautiful "Lives of the Wax Saints"), death (in the haunting "Holzer Bridge"), and religion (in "The Hungry and the Faithful" with its thundering ending); stories that played with structure (in "Laws of the Game" and "Old School Biology"); and stories that took ordinary lives, as so much great literature does, and elevated them ("It's Pretty Funny If You Think About It" and "Subsistence Living"). In the end, three stories rose above the rest -- pieces that lingered after the last line, writing that surprised me as often as it impressed. But all of you should feel proud. And all of us should feel encouraged that the future of American fiction is in such good hands."

1st place:  “Missionary Zeal” by Meagan Smith. "I was taken with this story from the start. The dialogue is piercingly good, and the inherent conflict -- of a boy intent on saving other people when he himself needs to be saved -- was complex and utterly believable, full of depth and psychological insight. I loved the roundedness of it, too. The narrative felt complete in the way that a short story should, which is to say that the story ended without false resolution and with a sense that the lives of the characters will continue. Bravo!"

2nd place: “The House” by Elaine Edwards. "Oh, the writing in this story! It's just astonishingly strong. I loved the short, fragmented sections, the accumulating sense of a life. It's not a structure that would work for every piece, but here, given the subject matter, it struck me as artful. Plot isn't at the forefront, but the story has a pulse, one so insistent and honest that I couldn't turn away."

3rd place: “Dust” by Michael Panciera. "I loved the humor in this story in the face of what, as we eventually learn, is so much pathos. The author achieves a tone so light and quick that I gobbled the story up. And then I got to the critical paragraph, the key to the narrator's sadness, and to this line in particular -- "The moonlight filled my mouth" -- and I did stop. I was forced to stop, jolted by the beauty of that image and cheering at how it was delivered." 

Finalists: “Holzer Bridge” by Amanda Foody, “The Hungry and the Faithful” by Hannah Barnhart, “It’s Pretty Funny, If You Think About It” by Dana Lotito, “Laws of the Game” by Aine Cain, “Lives of the Wax Saints” by Molly Earner, “Old School Biology” by Meha Semwal, “Subsistence Living” by Sarah Stubbs

 THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS PRIZE  Judged by Catherine Bowman of Indiana University, who recently read here in the Patrick Hayes Series, author of four acclaimed books of poetry, published everywhere, and regularly heard reviewing poetry on NPR’s All Things Considered.

1st place: A tie!  "Casita de Playa" by Chelsea Blanco: "A poem that reveals a complex past and preset with lush, gorgeous textures and deep emtotion and courage. Beautiful and moving."

Manuka Honey" by Meha Semwal: "A fierce and moving documentary of the family drama told with bold,heartbreaking  and stunning lyricism."

2nd Place: "Latitude" by Elaine Edwards

3rd Place: "Cathedral at the Bottom of the Sea" by Hilary Adams

Honorable Mention: "Geist im Wald" by Matthew Schroeder

Finalists: Angus Mackenzie, “Sleepwalking”;  Zachary Frank, “The Academy”; Samantha Farkas, “Letter to a [Former] Student at Aleppo University”; Molly Greer, “Patrick’s Elegy”; Claire Gillespie, “Music Lesson”; Jake Day, “Put Your Flowers/ In a Vase”; Victoria Chaitoff, “Sestina of a Safe Haven”

THE GORONWY OWEN PRIZE FOR A GROUP OF POEMS  Judged by Kazim Ali, author of several books of poems, essays, and a novel, professor of creative writing at Oberlin College, and founding editor of Nightboat Books.  

 1st Place: "American Dreams: An Exploration of the Contemporary Mythic" by Allister Nelson. "Fetching yet odd, these lines hit the ear like a weirdly out-of-tune piano-- their dissonance makes you listen harder. Then what seemed at first seemed harmless quirk lingers long and hauntingly in the mind."

2nd Place: "These Are Poems" by Catherine Bailey. "I love the local and detailed feel of these poems; one is almost lulled into familiarity, but what unfolds is a genuine searching beyond the ordinary."

3rd Place: "The Lays of the Dormitory" by Michael Monaco "The choice of using a medieval form in the most modern of settings allows the writer a chance to observe differently. Potential for performance and recitation abound!"

Finalists: “Cornus florida: Flowering Dogwood” by Morgan Hensley, “The Catharsis” by Brianna Little,  “Relationships Collection” by Mary-Grace Rusnak, “I Enjoy the Act of Disrobing (and other poems)” by Meha Semwal

THE TIBERIUS GRACCHUS JONES PRIZE FOR LITERARY NONFICTION  Judged by Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of four books of history and philosophy and three books of poetry. Her most recent books are Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, and the poetry collection Who Says.

Says Hecht, “it wasn't easy to choose!”

1st place: "I Went to Iceland and Learned How To Knit" by Jessica Edington. This is a wonderful essay. The voice is smart, funny, and has that spark of originality we hope for from a younger author. The insight about life is an excellent one, and it is told with clarity and conviction.

2nd place: "Testimonials" by Jordan Sutlive. "This is a terrific, informative piece on an important topic. It weaves together various stories to create a striking sense of the [Fukishima] disaster. It is very well-written and inventively structured."

3rd place: "Bang Bang!" by Aine Cain. "A lively story of place and characters, this essay vividly describes a very particular moment in a way that speaks to humanity in general. Memorable and generous of spirit."

Honorable Mentions: “Weird Book Girl and the Gloomy Year” by Dana Wood, “Sport of Kings” by Hannah Boes

Finalists:  “DNR” by Coleen Herbert, “An Early Soundtrack” by Neal Friedman


Judged by C. Denby Swanson, author most notably of the play The Norwegians which is right now on an open-ended run Off-Broadway in New York.

1st place: Snail Play by Coleen Herbert. “I think my favorite line was ‘I think it'd be best if you went to bed and thought about snails and then saw someone in the morning.’ The play has a spindly, architectural feel to it, the characters are off-balance and needy, and they reach out to each other in simple but utterly inappropriate ways, which I relish. The directness of the writing is refreshing.”

2nd place: Down to the Crossroads by Jonah Fishel. “Such an ambitious and arresting vision of the Robert Johnson story. As much the intersection of human and supernatural need as of music and myth. Reading this play is an experience of visual, aural, historical, and spiritual immersion and I am impressed with that intensity and scope.”

Honorable Mentions: (“Vast cinematic ideas. Distinct and original, both.”) “Rose-Colored Shards” by Amanda Foody, “Twelve Dancing Princesses” by Jamie Hall