2023 Spring Writing Contests


GMU Rinehart Fiction Award | $500 | Judge: Okezie Nwoka

Winner: Brenna R. Fuhr ("Blessed are the Meek")

"For using exceptional skill in craft to tell the story of the most vulnerable among us: children."

Honorable Mention: Bodie L. Fox ("Gas Station Gospel")

"For reminding us that poverty and the mundane can be full of promise and hope."

GMU Rinehart Nonfiction Award | $500 | Judge: Jamie Zvirzdin

Winner: F.N. Baylor ("Castor and Pollux")

"An excellent personal essay that allows readers to witness tightly sewn scenes of the narrator's friendship and frustration with her brother. With each new scene, the tension increases; characters deepen. The myth of Castor and Pollux well echoes the loyalty, love, and pain the narrator experiences on account of her brother. While it is a personal story, it doesn't hyperfocus on the internal state of the narrator at the expense of the reader; instead, we are swept along in scene and sensory detail, and we find familiar points of contact all along the way. No solution is preached at the end, but we still leave the story with those meaningful reverberations of loyalty promised in the title. Well done."

Honorable Mention: Shellie Kalinsky ("A Survival Story")

"This essay was a clearly written record of a mother and her husband fighting to help their daughter through the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma (JPA), a type of brain tumor. The reader learns about the signs and symptoms of JPA—and feels the intensity of parental love as the story of survival unfolds."

Honorable Mention: Ashlen Renner ("The Guest Star")

"A great and lyrical integration of information about supernovae, personal wonderings about omens, and possible pieces of history surrounding omens that explode and then fade."

GMU Rinehart Poetry Award | $500 | Judge: Kate Partridge

Winner: Eli Vandegrift ("Gender Theory According to Dinosaurs")

"I enjoyed the way this poem uses beautiful associative movements to reframe supposed dichotomies in surprising (and often funny) ways. The speaker's approach to gender theory feels fresh and precise, as they examine their own betweenness. The poem also contains beautiful breaks between stanzas, further elevating some of the most startling images (for ex., "Not to compare men and dogs: merely the concept of manipulation //   made sweet.")."

Honorable Mention: Nicholas Ritter ("Ballad—III")

Dan Rudy Fiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500 | Judge: Courtney Sender

Winner: Bodie L. Fox ("Some Glad Morning")

"[This story] had me from the start with the sharp authority of its voice, the feeling of impending tragedy looming at the edges of its crisp narration, the starkness of its unmarked dialogue, and the subtlety of its wisdom claims: ‘No, Elroy says, not like that. She looks at him, unsure of what to do. She is a daughtershe listens to him, watches him, trusts him’; ‘To Elroy, a miracle unasked for is a miracle still’; ‘The church was unhappy but eventually forgave him—a holy man is a man still.’ The tragedy of the conclusion is offset by deft choices in the writing, from the quick spare slippage of the accident to the momentary cast to the immediate future, a smart movement in the narrative eye before the story lands on its final, melancholy clause."

Honorable Mention: Kayla Hare ("The Falling Women")

"[This story] has a voice that grabs the reader from the first line: ‘You are eleven the first time a woman jumps off the roof of an elementary school and vanishes on the way down.’  That gripping voice serves a compelling and mysterious magical-real premise that the story takes seriously, allowing the consequences of its first line to escalate purposefully and precisely, as the story circles but-like its charactersalways just eludes ‘a straight answer to the question of why.’"

Honorable Mention: Farheen Raparthi ("At the Water's Edge")

"[This story] had stunningly beautiful moments of psychological and verbal complexity in lines like, ‘I could tell this made no difference to the girl. This man gave her a purpose. Whether that purpose was as menial as cooking for him, or as uncomfortable as pleasing him, or as complex as caring for his child did not matter to the girl, just as it once hadn’t to me, and because I envied thisher sense of directionI told her about Rohit.'"

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500 | Judge: Porscha Burke

Winner: Kylie Pat Smith ("The Moth Effect")
"The narrative pacing here was a treat to experience, and the writer's excellent deployment of sentence-length variation echoed the brilliant compositions of writers like Tara Westover and Ariel Levy. (Levy’s book, The Rules Do Not Apply, feels like an inspired comparative title for this book, and fingers crossed Levy and the author of "The Moth Effect" have the opportunity to be in conversation one day!) I very much hope the story can be expanded into a longer-form work and ultimately published."
Honorable Mention: Delaney Burk ("Bright Flame: Bitter: Daughter of a Challenger Roberta: Mara: Delaney")

Mark Craver Poetry Award (MFA Students Only)
| $500 | Judge: Steven D. Leyva 
Winner: Bri Chapman ("[amazing fantasy # 15.ditko. 4-color process ink on newsprint]")
"This prose-poem has many of the threads of braided, lyric essay, but insists on the kinds of emotional, structural, and syntactical collage that announce itself as a poem. The poem weaves found text and quotes into the narrative of a family, and uses it to say something true about the speaker's father and about the world."
Honorable Mention: Susan Muth ("Prada Marfa")
"A poem with clarity and inventiveness about place and consumption. I loved its sly humor among its evocative images."

Congratulations to all the winning writers!

2023 Spring Writing Contests

GMU Rinehart Fiction Award | $500

GMU Rinehart Nonfiction Award | $500

GMU Rinehart Poetry Award | $500

Prolific in the early 20th century, Mary Roberts Rinehart was referred to as the "American Agatha Christie." In 1983, the Rinehart family established The Mary Roberts Rinehart Fund at George Mason University to assist aspiring writers. Open to the entire University Student Community, contestants for awards in fiction and nonfiction should submit a freestanding entry, such as a short story or a self-contained section of a book. No entry in fiction or nonfiction should exceed 20 pages. Writers of poetry should submit 1 single poem of 60 lines or less. The competition is open to currently enrolled George Mason students, graduate or undergraduate, including current BFA in Creative Writing and MFA in Creative Writing students. Students are limited to one submission. The work submitted cannot be previously published in any form, print or online.

Dan Rudy Fiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500

The Dan Rudy Fiction Award was established by the family and friends of Dan Rudy (1947-1983), fiction writer and George Mason University MFA candidate. The prize is given for a single short story of 20 double-spaced pages or less. The competition is open to any currently enrolled MFA in Creative Writing student. Students are limited to one submission. The work submitted cannot be previously published in any form, print or online.

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500

To assist aspiring authors, the family of the late Mary Roberts Rinehart began a number of years ago awarding small grants to writers whose work showed particular promise. These awards were given to honor Ms. Rinehart, a writer of fiction and nonfiction, whose work was popular in the earlier decades of the 1900s. The prize is given for a single short piece of nonfiction (essay, memoir, etc.) 20 double-spaced pages or less. The competition is open to any currently enrolled MFA in Creative Writing student. Students are limited to one submission. The work submitted cannot be previously published in any form, print or online.

Mark Craver Poetry Award (MFA Students Only) | $500

This award honors Mark Craver, an MA and MFA alum as well as a popular Mason adjunct professor and area high school teacher until his death in January 2004. The award is given for a single poem of 60 lines or less, on any subject and in any form. The competition is open to any currently enrolled MFA in Creative Writing student. Students are limited to one submission. The work submitted cannot be previously published in any form, print or online.


GMU-designated contest categories are open to any currently enrolled George Mason University undergraduate or graduate student, as established by the Mason Foundation and the directives of the honoree for whom the contest is named. In addition, there is one contest in each genre (fiction, nonfiction, and poetry) for which only currently enrolled MFA students are eligible. 


See judges' biographies below.

Contest Submission Guidelines:

1. Students are limited to one submission per contest and must submit a different work for each contest. (A poem or a story cannot be selected as winner of more than one contest.) Previously submitted winning entries cannot be re-submitted. Please check each contest for specific guidelines, such as word/page limit.

2. Students must submit an electronic copy of each submission in PDF format. Electronic copies in another format will not be accepted. Each entry should be saved with the title of the corresponding award + title of piece. (Ex. GMU Rinehart Fiction Award_Story Title).

3. Please use the following format for submission emails:

  • The SUBJECT of the email should be: First Name Last Name_Spring Writing Contest 2023. (Ex. Pat Doe_Spring Writing Contest 2023)
  • Include your G# and First and Last Name in the body of the email.
  • Each attachment should be titled with the name of the contest to which the entry is being submitted and the title of the piece (Ex. Mark Craver Poetry Award_Poem Title).
  • No identifying information other than the entry's title should appear on the submission itself.

Electronic submissions should be emailed to Rafaella Silva at rsilva8@gmu.edu and must be received by the posted deadline. The deadline for 2023 is Sunday, April 2 at 11:59pm ET.

4. The purpose of these awards is to reward previously unrecognized work. Therefore, submissions must be previously unpublished.  Submissions will be considered as "published" if they have been accepted for or have appeared in any publication, including student magazines at this or other institutions. Work currently under submission will not be considered to be "published," and is eligible for these awards.

5. At the discretion of the judges, an award may be divided between two or more writers, or, if no submission is found to be of sufficient merit, an award may be withheld.

6. Award winners are contacted by email shortly before results are posted, usually in mid-April. Winners will be announced on the creative writing website. All winners will be invited to participate in the English Department Honors Reception held in May.


Please email Rafaella Silva, the English Department's Graduate Admissions Outreach Manager, at rsilva8@gmu.edu with questions.

Contest Judges:

Contest judges are selected and announced ahead of the submission deadline each year. Judges are selected and invited to participate each year by the Mason Creative Writing administration. Judges for the 2023 Spring Writing Contests are:

GMU Rinehart Fiction Award
Judge: Okezie Nwoka 

Okezie Nwọka was born and raised in Washington, D.C. They are a graduate of Brown University and attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop as a Dean Graduate Research Fellow. They are presently teaching and living in their hometown. God of Mercy (Astra House) is their first novel. Okezie was a Visiting Writers guest at Mason in Fall 2022.

GMU Rinehart Nonfiction Award
Judge: Jamie Zvirzdin  http://www.jamiezvirzdin.com

Jamie Zvirzdin researches ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays at the University of Utah and teaches science writing at Johns Hopkins University. She has published work in The Atlantic, Kenyon Review, Brevity, Creative Nonfiction Magazine, CONSEQUENCE, Orion Magazine, Issues in Science & Technology, and elsewhere. She is the author of Subatomic Writing: Six Fundamental Lessons to Make Language Matter (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2023). Jamie loves pedagogy--the science and art of teaching--and has taught science/medical writing workshops, personal essay and memoir courses, literature courses, editing courses, and short story courses.

GMU Rinehart Poetry Award
Judge: Kate Partridge https://katepartridge19.wixsite.com/kate-partridge

Kate Partridge is the author of two collections of poetry, THINE (Tupelo, forthcoming 2023) and Ends of the Earth (University of Alaska). Her poems have appeared in FIELD, Yale Review, Pleiades, Michigan Quarterly Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Copper Nickel, and other journals. A graduate of the MFA program at George Mason University and the PhD at the University of Southern California, she lives in Denver and teaches at Regis University. Kate is also a founding co-editor of Switchback Books.

Dan Rudy Fiction Award (MFA Students Only)
Judge: Courtney Sender www.courtneysender.com

Courtney Sender is the author of In Other Lifetimes All I've Lost Comes Back to Me (West Virginia University Press, 2023), called "a deep and howling portrait of longing and loneliness" by The Boston Globe. Her essays have appeared in The New York Times' Modern Love, The Atlantic, Slate, and others. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Ploughshares, The Kenyon Review, American Short Fiction, AGNI, and many others. A Yaddo and MacDowell fellow, she holds an MFA in fiction from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars and an MTS from Harvard Divinity School. 

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award (MFA Students Only)
Judge: Porscha Burke https://slicemagazine.org/an-interview-with-publishing-manager-porscha-burke/

Porscha Burke is Director, Strategic Projects and Senior Editor-at-Large at Random House—where, since 2004, she’s supported executives, edited works by Dr. Maya Angelou, Jon Meacham, Candice Benbow, Bryant Terry, Kathy Iandoli, Queen Afua, Rev. Wheeler Parker Jr. and Christopher Benson, Connie Briscoe and Milton Washington, and Sean Kantrowitz, among others, and spearheaded new editions of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and The Black Book, originally edited by Toni Morrison. A Queens, New York native and University of Virginia graduate, Porscha received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, where she currently teaches. (Photo: Nisha Sondhe)

Mark Craver Poetry Award (MFA Students Only)
Judge: Steven Leyva https://stevenleyva.wordpress.com/

Steven Leyva was born in New Orleans, Louisiana and raised in Houston, Texas. His poems have appeared in Smartish Pace, Scalawag, Nashville Review, jubilat, Vinyl, Prairie Schooner, The Hopkins Review, and Best American Poetry 2020. He is a Cave Canem fellow and author of the chapbook Low Parish and author of The Understudy’s Handbook which won the Jean Feldman Poetry Prize from Washington Writers Publishing House. Steven holds an MFA from the University of Baltimore, where he is an associate professor in the Klein Family School of Communications Design.