Dean’s Writing Awards honor excellence

Last Monday night, Boren Lounge was packed. People crowded into chairs, sat along walls, and grouped on the floor, all paying rapt attention to the speaker at the front of the room. “This is sort of like Masterpiece Theatre,” joked Instructor in English and master of ceremonies David Bowen.

But it wasn’t Masterpiece Theatre the audience had come to see. It was the first-ever public reading by the winners of the Dean’s Writing Awards, a contest held at Guilford every spring.

The awards, now in their 11th year, offer cash prizes to students for writing in a variety of categories: fiction, poetry, physical and natural sciences, scholarly, narrative, first-year writing, and professional writing, which is a category that’s new this year. The contest’s main goal is to give students a chance to celebrate the writing they constantly do.

“Guilford is such a writing-intensive institution,” said Assistant Professor of English and Director of Writing Cynthia Nearman, who helped judge the entries. “After you’ve taken all the time for teaching writing and learning about writing, there’s no time to celebrate writing.”

“Writing is a physical record of thought, and thinking is valuable because without thought, there can be no change,” said Bowen, who was also a judge. “We want students to see some of the delight in writing, and the power in it.”

This is the first time in the contest’s 11 years that there has been a public reading of the winning pieces. The reading was organized in order to raise awareness about the contest, and also to give the authors a chance to have an audience.

“It’s one thing to announce the names of winners, but if we actually get human beings gathered in a room listening to the pieces, it reminds everyone that writing is a deeply human thing,” said Instructor of English Jenn Brown, another judge.

The first winner to read was senior Meredith Veto, whose piece “Mardi Gras Celebration After Tragedy” won the award for professional writing. It was originally written as a staff column for YES! Weekly, a local paper that Veto interned at this semester. She was inspired to write the piece after seeing the photographs in the Founders Gallery, which are of the Mardi Gras celebration in 2002, only 6 months after Sept. 11.

“I wanted to sort of contemplate how they would deal with a festivity after a tragedy such as Katrina,” Veto said.

After the crowd applauded Veto’s reading, junior Katie Byrum, winner of the poetry category, took the stage. Her three winning poems were part of a dream sequence work. One of her poems, entitled “The Dream of Beautiful Corpses,” is based off of a dream she had about a stampede during a pilgrimage in Iraq, where some 200 women and children were trampled to death.

“I have really vivid, strange dreams, and sometimes I feel like they come from the same place poems come from,” said Byrum, who also won the poetry contest in her first year at Guilford.

Jasmine Ashton won an honorable mention in first-year writing for an essay she wrote for her psychology of sexuality class. In this essay “The Embodiment of Nude Modeling,” she discusses the feeling of liberation that goes along with posing as a nude model for an art class.

“I was not a person in that art room,” Ashton read to the attentive audience. “I was a body. A naked body.”

First prize in that category went to Charlton Bean, though he was unable to attend the reading. His winning piece was also an essay, written for an ethnography assignment in and English class. The essay, “Darkness to Light,” discusses the hard life of a prison inmate.

“My father worked in the court system, and he came home with stories every day about what was going on in the courtroom and holding cells,” Bean said. “I wanted to do something really different, so I figured it would be a great place to start my ethnography.”

Bean went to a local prison and observed the inmates there. He also interviewed one of the inmates, which was a very moving experience.

“I want to let people know that prison is not where you want to be,” Bean said. “You feel like you can’t breathe in there.”

The Sue Keith Prize in fiction had two honorable mentions this year, along with a first-place winner. Honorable mentions were awarded to Maria Walsh-Cole for her story “Mr. and Mrs. Mooney, 112 Flagler Way,” and to Diesel Robertson for “So You Have to be an Oracle,” both of which were read.

Sophomore Anastasia Smith won the Sue Keith Prize in fiction. Her story “Crushed,” was one of the darker pieces read. The story is about two sisters who find an injured mouse, and then her nest of abandoned children. The theme of death present in her piece is something on which Smith centers much of her writing.

“I really like writing about death,” Smith said. “It’s really interesting to think about how we learn about things dying and learn to embrace death as a part of life.”

Smith wrote the story for her fiction workshop class. The theme of death appeals to her because of its universality.

“When you read a story by masters of short fiction, though you may not relate at all, you get this feeling that’s inexplicable, and that feeling’s universal,” Smith said. “I think there’s an inborn feeling everyone shares that’s coming to terms with death.”

As the hour wound down, the last winner of the evening stepped to the front: Charlie McAlpin, for his piece “Jung’s Shadow Archetype in Moby Dick.” His piece and “Approaches to Absurdism” by Lisa Jaeggi were the winners of the scholarly-critical award.

McAlpin’s essay won national recognition for disproving the commonly accepted belief that the character of Fedallah in “Moby-Dick” is Captain Ahab’s “shadow.” He read his essay at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference on March 31.