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Student writing competition attracts a record number of entries

CREATIVE WRITING AWARDS: The student writing contest at UTSC received 220 submissions overall, including poetry and prose.

by Eleni Kanavas

Colourful language, rhythmic poems and exciting literary themes fill the pages of the entries in this year’s writing competition at U of T Scarborough.

Organizers of the 2009 Creative Writing Awards announced the results recently, following a record number of submissions and anonymous judging. Students from every discipline and year at the university submitted a record total of 220 entries this year, including 45 works of prose and 175 poems.

“The quality of the submissions was excellent, and it was difficult for the judges to choose the winners,” said Nancy Johnston, writing support coordinator in the Writing Centre at UTSC and one of the competition’s judges. “We’re seeing students who demonstrate engagement in contemporary writing with a maturity of language and style. Both the quality and quantity of entries in this competition have grown.”

The winner of the short story category was Donia Almassi, a third-year studio art specialist student. She describes her story, “The Bleeding Line” as a fictional short piece based on a variety of personal experiences and emotions which inspired her writing.

“I really didn’t think I stood a chance against all the English majors,” said Almassi, 21. “I’ve never submitted my work to any contest before, and so this award is really encouraging.” To read the winning short story, click here.

The winner in the poetry category was Laura Cok, a fourth-year English specialist student. She said that her poem, titled “Blues for Helen of Troy” was inspired by the poems of Kim Addonizio, a well-known American poet based in California who has written numerous “blues” poems in her collection, What is This Thing Called Love?

“I liked the idea of using that blues style in poetry,” said Cok, 20. “I always wanted to write something connecting Helen of Troy with modern-day beauty myths, and the blues felt like a natural way of expressing that.” To read the winning poem, click here.

Blues poetry, as Cok understands it, takes on qualities of blues music and incorporates or adjusts those elements as needed. Three-line stanzas and slant or half rhymes, which are common in blues, are contained in the blues poems she has read, Cok said.

Creative writing awards are not new to Cok. She has won numerous previous awards, placing in the top three poetry writers in each of her years of study at UTSC. She has also won the Hart House Poetry contest as well as the E.J. Pratt Medal, both from the University of Toronto.

Asked about her approach to writing, Cok cites the lines of Ted Kooser, former U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006, published in his work The Poetry Home Repair Manual. “According to Ted Kooser, a poem is a way of ‘assembling a little bit of order amid chaos,’” she says. “I can put something down on paper and have a small piece of a chaotic and dangerous world make sense.”

Second and third prize winners in the short story category went to students Dani Spady and Renae McCann respectively. Honorable mentions in this category went to Laura Cok, Yi Siang (Bryan) Tai and Tiffany Chin.

In the poetry category, second and third prize went to students Phuong Nguyen and Billy Courtice respectively. Honourable mentions were given to Lori Polito, Andrew Mullens, Sven Jurshevki and Lee Yoong Siang.

In 2002-2003, the U of T Scarborough Writing Centre recognized the need to celebrate not only academic writing but also creative writing. It then established two creative writing prizes, one for poetry and one for prose or short fiction.

Submission requirements are based on excellence in creative writing within a given word limit. Student writers can submit numerous poems not exceeding 1,000 words in total. In the prose category, writers may submit one entry only, containing a maximum of 4,000 words.

All entries in both categories are judged anonymously. Along with Nancy Johnston, the judging committee this year was comprised of Andrew Dubois, professor of English, and Trisha Lamie, professor of visual and performing arts.

Since the Centre for Teaching and Learning sponsors the prizes for the Creative Writing Awards, the department of humanities has generously offered to fund the second and third prizes, Johnston says. Humanities will be sponsoring the major prizes in future years, said Johnston. This new commitment means the top three winners in each category receive a monetary gift. First prize is $100; second prize is $75; and third prize is $50.

No web site has been set up specifically for the winning literary pieces, Johnston says, but she is optimistic that a future link will be developed.

In the meantime, she encourages students to keep reading and writing in their chosen genre and to get involved with Scarborough Fair, an arts journal published at U of T Scarborough, in order to improve writing skills and publish their work. Click here to read more details.

“The volume of entries we receive for the writing competition and the number of interested students also reflects the success of Scarborough Fair, the student-run arts journal,” said Johnston. “If we have a climate at the university in which students are encouraging one another to write poetry and prose and then reading their work to one another, then more students will develop confidence in their own writing.”

For more information on how to get involved with Scarborough Fair, click here

© University of Toronto Scarborough