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Writing awards showcase student creativity


by Denise Tse

The results are in for the 2007 Creative Writing Awards, the annual competition organized by the Writing Centre on campus that continues to help U of T Scarborough students to explore their creativity in a literary way.

Now in its fifth year, the competition received more than 120 submissions this year from students of various disciplines to its categories of short fiction and poetry. The competition is open to all students, and submissions are judged on originality and creativity in choice of subject matter, use of language, and overall presentation.

Dr. Nancy Johnston of the campus Writing Centre, a judge of this year's competition, believes the contest allows students of different backgrounds and types of interests to explore their creativity and polish their creative writing skills.

"The remarkable increase in the number of entries, almost double over a few years, suggests to me that students want to explore their creativity (through this forum),” said Johnston. “It's promising that entries come from students from many disciplines, rather than simply from Humanities where creative writing is typically taught." 

The competition's short fiction category was won by Rachel Muenz, a journalism student entering her third year, for her piece, "The Controller". The poetry category was won by English specialist student Laura Cok, who is entering her second year, for her poem “Professions of faith". To read the winning short fiction piece and the winning poem, click here.

Honourable mentions for prose include: Alex Gough for "The Crystalline Logic Matrix" and Matthew Mitchell for "Torontonians”. Honourable mention for poetry went to Jack Lloyd for "Hawes Lemon Oil Poem”.

Other judges this year included Chad Crichton of Teaching and Learning Services, and English Professor Russell Brown, who has been a judge with the contest since it began.

The judges found this year's short fiction submissions particularly impressive, such that two honourable mentions were named for the category. With each prose submission limited to 3,000 words, the judges agreed writers were taking more risks in their writing breadth and style, and showed "an understanding of contemporary short fiction," said Johnston.

Muenz originally wrote her winning short story "The Controller" as an assignment for a creative writing course she took in the winter 2007 term. She drew on her walks between campus and the nearby grocery store to write a story in which the main character, Ben, experiences flashbacks of his late brother while walking to the neighbourhood grocer.

"(My piece) is about how Ben deals with the grief of his past and present by making it into a game, and as a bond between brothers", said Muenz. She wrote "The Controller" out of the desire "to capture how close family relationships can be revealed in simple things like video games."

According to the judges, greater experimentation in style and length was also seen in the poetry submissions, with more lyric pieces being written, for example.

"The best poetry shows an inspired or original approach to the chosen subject and skill in handling language, rhythm, imagery and form," noted Johnston.

 This is clear in Cok's winning poem, where she described "Professions of faith" as the story of a faith journey.

"It's about coming to terms with the paradoxes inherent when a childhood faith confronts the wider world in all its complexities," said Cok. Entering her second year, she explained that her university experience so far has been one in which she found herself living in two worlds: between that of her religious upbringing, and the openness of university, where "nobody had any set expectations of how or what I was to believe," she said. Her poem is inspired by her attempt to integrate these two worlds.

Cok is no stranger to excelling in creative writing, and her work has placed top in past poetry and prose competitions she entered. These include the 2006 Dorothy Shoemaker Literary Awards Contest, and the 2006 short story contest organized by the youth division of The Record, a Waterloo region newspaper.

Johnston finds it encouraging that some students have continued to submit to the campus' Creative Writing Awards over the years, and noted that some students submitted multiple entries, as well as submitting to both the poetry and prose categories. She congratulates students "for taking their work from their private journal to a more public forum", and describes this process to be a positive, personal challenge for all student creative writers.

The Writing Centre established the campus' Creative Writing Awards in the 2002-03 academic year, to recognize and celebrate the fact that Scarborough students are not just academic writers, but also creative writers. Submissions are received over a three-month period and are judged anonymously by members of faculty, and Teaching and Learning Services. The award includes a cash prize and a certificate.

Denise Tse is a third-year arts student at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

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