Mason Creative Writing Announces Spring 2019 Contest Winners

Mason Creative Writing Announces Spring 2019 Contest Winners

Mason's Creative Writing Program announced the winners of its annual spring writing contests. Ten lucky writers -- representing a mix of undergraduate and graduate students -- were awarded $500 each. The ten contests cover fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, and many were established by Mason's acclaimed alumni authors and favorite former professors.

Spring 2019 contest winners included:

Mark Craver Poetry Award Winner selected by Sandra Beasley

"A Pun Spun Out from a Tree" by Andrew Art

A premise of unspoken trauma enriches this poem, but is never fully disclosed; I enjoy the subsequent combination of intimacy and risk. Heightened, abbreviated syntax counterbalances the formal nod toward prose. And I am particularly fond of Addie, "who terrorized bags of soil or mulch in hopes of getting to know what was inside." This winning poet’s work is full of restless, ambitious energy. – Sandra Beasley

Virginia Downs Poetry Award Winner selected by Henry Hart

"Extinction" by Kelly Foster

I thought "Extinction" was a beautiful and haunting love poem. It begins with a tender scene of a daughter incubating a nightingale’s egg with a heat lamp, moves back in time to the parents’ erotic relationship when they were young, and then jumps forward to the present when one of the parents turns off the heat lamp over the egg. The poem is enchantingly mysterious. I was reminded of Keats in his famous "Ode to a Nightingale" reflecting on the pains and pleasures of life—how, when life is full of suffering, one is tempted "to cease upon the midnight with no pain" and join the nightingale who sings in the dark "In such an ecstasy." The author of "Extinction" contemplates a similar situation. The poem concludes: "Letting / things go could be / another name for love." One must extinguish the ego sometimes to join another person in a loving relationship. Giving up what stifles union can lead to ecstasy. What might seem to be a loss can end up being a gain. "Extinction" expresses these paradoxes in a moving way. – Henry Hart

Joseph A. Lohman III Poetry Award Winner selected by Erica Dawson

"2" by Lloyd Wallace

"2" is a mesmerizing poem, hitting the reader with one surprising image after another. The images, at first, seem wildly different. Some readers might find the poem a bit too scattered. But it's the exact opposite. "2" moves us through the complicated maze of memory and nostalgia, and leaves us with a true moment of discovery. And every image--from the lobster in the pot and the sky crawling in like an answer, to the crows unlocking their silence and the sky dangling stars like commas--speaks to both the captivity and the freedom of the human condition, as we reconcile our wants with the world around us. – Erica Dawson

Mary Roberts Rinehart Poetry Award Winner selected by Vivek Narayanan

"an inheritance" by Victoria Mendoza

"an inheritance" is a raw and vigorous exploration of the self as a buried and silted city, the driving voice turning both archaeologist and ruins by turns. The poem seems like it could be (and I hope it is) part of a longer sequence. The sentiments and subjects explored are certainly not new, but what is refreshing and promising here-- in addition to the thickness of some of the vocabulary and the seamless transitions between languages-- is the poem's refusal of any easy conclusion, its insistence on being in continual, even if tortured, interrogation of itself. –Vivek Narayanan

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award Winner selected by Dale Keiger

"Guerillas: Paris Routine" by Indigo Erikson

Several things about this piece impressed me: The story maintains a second-person point of view, and that’s hard to pull off, harder than it looks. The author did well with it here. The reliance on so many sentences that are in essence short commands or instructions could become tedious, but rarely does in this story. Again, harder than it looks. I noted the care with which the author worked in enough variety in the length and tone of the sentences to avoid tedium, but not so much to dilute the effect. I was impressed by the intelligence that comes through in the respect and attention paid to everyday emotional complexity, paid with an admirable economy of words. Without that much of a narrative arc, the story still conveys a good bit of tension that kept pulling me through it. Deft use of detail to portray the various players in the story. I read this piece as a reflection, as an account from memory, and thought the writer was attentive to the imprecision and unreliability of memory, another way in which I think the story is well observed. And admirably honest.  I don’t know how much, if any, this story comes out of familiarity with A Moveable Feast, but it has that feel to it without seeming imitative or derivative. – Dale Keiger

Mary Roberts Rinehart Fiction Award Winner selected by Danielle Evans

"When You Hear Static, It’s God Sighing" by Virginia Eggerton

Alan Cheuse Nonfiction Award Winner selected by Tim Wendel

"The City of New Orleans" by David Stroup

Some trips that we make are simply to get from Point A to Point B. Other trips resonate long after we think we’ve reached our final destination. The latter is splendidly displayed in David Stroup’s story, which is part essay and part memoir. With precise details and memorable characters, he takes us on journey that neither the writer nor the reader will soon forget. Alan Cheuse was one of my teachers, an important mentor, when I was getting my start. It’s my pleasure to select this story in Alan’s honor and memory. – Tim Wendel

Alan Cheuse Fiction Award Winner selected by Danuta Hinc

"The Last Letter" by Aditya Johri

The short story distinguishes itself by offering several elements, which constitute the impeccable storytelling technics. First, its structure, especially transitions between paragraphs, makes the story flow with conviction and suspense. This pulls the reader effectively, and keeps him (or her) intrigued from the beginning to the end of the story. Second, the POV is consistent and presents a high degree of empathy. It allows the reader to become familiar and engaged with the character and his story. Moreover, it makes the reader care about the character and his particular circumstances. Third, all characters in the story are convincing, consistent, and developed with a high degree of affinity and purpose. The world in which they exist is presented with authority and diligence. All elements in the story--objects, statements used by characters, cultural references—exist in tandem and make the story a delightful and enlightening read. – Danuta Hinc

Dan Rudy Fiction Award Winner selected by Stefan Kiesbye

"Flying Objects" by Elspeth Jensen

I was impressed by the narrator’s calm and discerning voice, a voice that is not yet adult and probing what’s in store for her once she will fully enter the world of her parents and neighbors. The writer displays a fine ear for the complexity of simple truths, and shows subtlety when addressing complicated, multi-faceted situations. "Flying Objects" shows great restraint and fine flourishes, doing justice to the layers of simple human interactions while never losing sight of the lyrical qualities of ordinary life. – Stefan Kiesbye

Shelley A. Marshall Fiction Award Winner selected by Jen Michalski

"Upriver" by Bradley Radovich

"Stories should create expectations in the reader, then challenge and defy them at every turn. "Upriver," with its Southern Gothic undertones, delivers in spades. In what begins with a seeming nod to Joyce Carol Oates's classic "Where Are you Going, Where Have You Been," two children hosting a homemade tea stand after school receive an unexpected visitor. Then, the reader's expectations are thwarted. When we think the story may be about danger, it changes into grief. But whose grief? This again changes, as Marshall works to show us the interplay of motivations between characters, all while weaving a rich tapestry of mid-century small-town life near the Mississippi River. "Upriver" possesses a nuanced understanding of setting, pacing, tension, character, and desire, and I am thrilled to name it my selection." – Jen Michalski