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Writing awards highlight student creativity


by Aurora Herrera

Style, texture and rhythm -- those are the qualities found in the writing of U of T Scarborough students, according to the judges of the annual writing competition held on campus.

The results of this year’s competition are out, the Writing Centre announced recently. About 150 students submitted entries in two categories: short stories and poetry.

In the short story category, the winner was Shiyam Ramachandran, a third-year English student. The winning poem was penned by Fathima Feroze, a second-year economics and English major.

Second and third prize winners in the short story category went to students Chantelle Walters and Sarah Khattab respectively. Honourable mention went to Laura Cok. In the poetry category, second and third prize went to students Laura Cok and Srishta Chopra respectively. Honourable mention for poetry went to students Suzanne Fernando, Karim Lalani, Lori Polito and Stefan Catona.

“Work in both categories demonstrated confidence in voice, originality of approach and skill in delivery,” said Dr. Nancy Johnston, writing support coordinator and one of the competition’s judges. Other judges were: Trisha Lamie, lecturer in visual and performing arts; Andrew DuBois, professor of English; and Philip Cox, undergraduate editor of the arts journal Scarborough Fair.

This is the first year that second and third prizes and honourable mentions were awarded, Johnston said. “We wanted to acknowledge the high quality of our submissions this year so we expanded the number of awards given,” she added. “One of the judges suggested we extend prizes to second and third place winners to recognize writing excellence. We also agreed to name a larger number of promising writers in the honorable mention category.”

Shiyam Ramachandran’s short story, “Between Evening Sparrows of Her Dollhouse,” focuses on a family in crisis during a time when a father endeavours to build a dollhouse for his daughter. Ramachandran won second place in the short story category two years ago, and he identifies William Faulkner, James Joyce, Frank McCourt and Rohinton Mistry, as sources of inspiration for his writing.

Fathima Feroze’s winning poem is called “Untitled: Walking in Droves, Listening”. Feroze was born in Sri Lanka and lived there until 2006, when she immigrated to Canada. Her poem explores the life of tea plantation workers in Sri Lanka back when that country was still a colonized nation. To read the winning poem, click here.

“This poem is written from the viewpoint of a child -- a girl who inhabits this world and recognizes the feelings of the adults around her,” said Feroze. “However, she does not understand the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, and does not realize that this is the only world she will ever know.”

Chantelle Walters placed second in the short story category for her piece titled “In the Eyes of Africa.” The story is told through the eyes of a girl orphaned after her parents were murdered in the Rwandan genocide. The child is forced to take on the role of a mother figure for her brothers.

"A prisoner of poverty in Uganda, the girl battles against some of the barriers of the country’s reality: AIDS, racism and colonialism,” said Walters. “She is trying to find a name for herself – a place for herself. I derived my inspiration from a personal moment where I glanced at my skin and said, ‘I'm going to write about you.’ I believe that in order to understand who we are as individuals, we can start with the very roots from which our ancestors came."

Math and biology student Sarah Khattab’s third-place story is about a gay Muslim man. Titled “A Struggle for Words,” her work was inspired by a desire to express her feelings of good fortune to live in a place like Canada where rights such as freedom of speech are guaranteed. Born in Saudi Arabia to Egyptian parents, Khattab moved to Canada when she was two years old. “In Canada, we can live life to the fullest, but we rarely value it,” said Khattab. “I wanted to address an issue and express how lucky we are to live in a democratic society. People in some countries live with so many silences and suppressions, but in Canada we are totally free.”

Laura Cok, who will be entering her third year this September as an English specialist student, received honourable mention this year for her short story, “At the Book Burning.” Cok was the winner in the poetry category last year, and took second place this year for her poem "We Should Meet in Air.”

“The poem was inspired by my unfortunate habit of reading medically-melodramatic teen books in middle school,” Cok said.

Mathematics and statistics student Srishta Chopra, who placed third in the poetry competition, said she started writing by chance. ”It was a fine day at school when I saw on the notice board a beautiful poem about friendship written by a senior student. Then it all started for me, and I wrote my first poem, also on friendship,” she said.

In her poem, “The Missing Bit,” Chopra tries to relate world problems such as terrorism, discrimination and violence to individuals and their place in society.

“My note of frustration over my life and the life of the world as a whole ends with a note of hope -- the phoenix,” Chopra said. “I hope that my effort in making these issues explicit does some good and provokes people into acting against them.”

Other poetry that was recognized includes: “A Sacrilege of Nightclubs” by Suzanne Fernando; a selection of poems by Karim Lalani; “T’in’man” by Lori Polito (which was also published in Scarborough Fair); and a selection of poems by Stefan Catona.

Aurora Herrera is a fourth-year student in the journalism program offered by U of T Scarborough and Centennial College. She is currently working as an intern in the office of marketing and communications.

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