Spring 2015 Undergraduate Awards

Creative Writing Awards in Short Fiction and Poetry

Deadline: Monday, March 2, 2015, NOON (12 p.m.)

The English Department sponsors and administers two annual undergraduate literary competitions in Short Fiction and Poetry. Depending on available funding, there will be 2-3 prizes in Fiction and 2-3 in Poetry this year. Past prizes have ranged from $100 to $1000. As soon as we have specific funding numbers available, we will announce them on this web page.

Contest Rules

Short Fiction: no contestant may submit more than one unpublished story (7500 words, maximum length)
Poetry: no contestant may submit more than 200 lines, as a single unpublished poem or a group of unpublished poems

Only University of Illinois undergraduate students are eligible to compete. To be considered for a prize, submissions must adhere to the following rules. All submissions must be sent to the following email address: sdavenpo@illinois.edu Depending on your entry (poetry or fiction), the subject line must read as follows: UNDERGRAD POETRY or UNDERGRAD FICTION (not both). If you enter in both categories (poetry and fiction), you will need to send separate emails. Your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, net id, status (undergrad), and UIN number must appear in the body of the email. Your fiction OR poetry entry is to be contained in one attachment (doc, docx, or rtf only), the name of which should be as follows: contest category followed by your last name, such as FICTIONJONES or POETRYJONES. Your name should not appear in the attachment itself.

Spring 2014 Undergraduate Creative Writing Awards


Judge: Margaret Luongo

Margaret Luongo, this year's judge, teaches creative writing at Miami University. Her short stories have appeared in Tin House, Jane Magazine, The Cincinnati Review, Granta.com, Consequence Magazine, North American Review, The Pushcart Prize anthology, and other publications. She was a Walter E. Dakin Fellow at the Sewanee Writers Conference and a recipient of the Ohio Arts Council Individual Creativity grant. In 2008, her first story collection, If the Heart is Lean, was published by LSU Press.

Forty-eight writers submitted stories. Below are the winners and the judge's comments.

John L. Rainey Prize, $1,000 (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity): Maryam Ghafoor, "Spider Wasp"

Ambitious in content, emotion, and form, "Spider Wasp" depicts a Pakistani family and its extended community in America. This family story conveys what it means to be an immigrant with strong ties to the religion, culture, and country from which one comes. Hope competes with doubt, sorrow, and guilt.

Charles and Susan Shattuck Prize, $500: Devin Borgman, "I Remember"

This story powerfully conveys, through voice and tone, the turmoil of a character living with the lingering shame she feels over a forced sexual encounter. The narrator uses the metaphor of a bear to represent the presence of this trauma in her life: the bear as a lumbering protector, as a reminder to be on guard. The voice is suitably and simultaneously oppressive, smart, insightful. The emotionally complex ending rings true, providing a believable sense of closure, healing, and progress.

Josephine M. Bresee Memorial, $400: Amanda Toledo, "Observing While Blue"

A lonely man finds comfort--and then distress--in his clandestine observation of a pair of strangers. The situation and level of detail highlight perfectly the protagonist's problem--his isolation and loneliness, his separation from his daughter. In the end, the protagonist's perception has changed just enough to improve his life--slightly--and to give him a modest (and heartbreaking) sense of hope.

Leah Trelease Prize, $300: Dylan Knox, "Ether"

The world is disappearing--people, things, animals, houses, the lines painted on roads--leaving behind nothingness. Throughout, the point of view character, Ryan, has some interesting thoughts. He's mostly unaffected, until his thoughts roam to his father. In the end, losing everything around him enlarges his sense of generosity for his fellow humans. His motorcycle ride through the atmosphere feels redemptive and transformative.

Honorable Mention: Brett Benischek, "The Secret Life of a Dinner Plate"

What do Martin Buber and a dinner plate have in common? A strikingly similar take on human existence. This is a story that should not work, but does—with charm and wit it asks the major existential questions. Are we, like Schrodinger's cat, stuck inside boxes that are only halfway killing us? Do we understand that other humans are alive (or dead) just like us?

Honorable Mention: Alyssa Davison, "Trace a Line Black on Black"

This surreal story shows the very mundane dissolution of a relationship: a couple grows apart in the ways that couples typically do. The dream-like elements convey Steve's passive-aggressive hostility toward his mate—he sees the impending disaster, he could change, but he won't. Eerie and compelling, complete with a toxic pond sprouting two-tailed tadpoles.

Honorable Mention: David Huettner, "First"

Frenetic and evocative, this unusually structured story offers a fresh look at The First Time.

Honorable Mention: Dylan O'Hearn, "In Clover"

A beautifully composed piece that conveys the sense of mindlessness, repetition, and oblivion a group of Marines experiences.


Judge: Katherine Riegel

Katherine Riegel is the author of two books of poetry, What the Mouth Was Made For and Castaway. Her poems and essays have appeared in a variety of journals, including Brevity, Crazyhorse, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection. She received her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and the University of Illinois is her undergraduate alma mater. She teaches poetry at the University of South Florida in Tampa. .

Sixty-four writers submitted poems. Below are the winners and the judge's comments.

Folger Adam, Jr. Prize, $1,000 (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity): Jessica Sung, " Pickets"

"Pickets" is a mysterious, emotionally raw and evocative poem in which the speaker navigates between real and imaginary worlds, neither of which is straightforwardly positive or negative. In mistaking red flower petals for the blood of a rabbit, the speaker shows us the nightmare possibilities of the imaginary, but it is also the impossible neighbor, the one who isn't there because "no one lives there anymore," who offers up some kind of hope at the end of the poem. This poet shows a comfort with paradox and complexity that is at the heart of what poetry does, saying the unsayable with imagery and fresh language to give readers a glimpse of what it's like to be human.

Thatcher H. Guild Prize, $500: Natalie Declerck, "Scrolling Through Images of Sterile Sunsets"

"Scrolling Through Images of Sterile Sunsets" is a wonderfully disjointed-seeming poem, with the indented lines serving to heighten the sense of disorientation created by the line breaks and the surprise of the half sentences of the next lines—sometimes syntactically challenging, but continually fresh. The poem uses computer imagery in natural ways, commenting on the relationship between human and screen. The poet juxtaposes imagery and ideas from different time periods, including the line "The ceiling fan throws hex," and doesn't hold back sharp, smart expositional lines.

American Academy of Poets Prize, $100: Laney Ontiveros, "Raw Meat"

"Raw Meat" uses the poetic tools of compression, spacing, and experiment with capitalization and punctuation in very adept ways. There is very powerful emotion in this concise, ambiguous poem; the poet makes excellent use of connotation and tone so that a single word carries a number of meanings. The speaker is vulnerable, both lamb ("the bleating") and baby ("the teething"), and also literally squeezed by worry (the hands are "wrung & wrung"). Strong, raw imagery makes this poem memorable.

Honorable Mentions

Scott Blinkensderfer, "Raining on Their Three O'Clock Parades"

Sophia Ege, "We Sway at Fullerton"

Maryam Ghafoor, "Lalamusa"

Muriel Kenfield-Kelleher, "Unknown Lake, Washington"

Angela Nostwick, "Orange Hospital Jellow"

About the Undergraduate Literary Prize Awards in Poetry

The English Department sponsors and administers the following undergraduate literary prizes in poetry: Folger Adam, Jr. Prize (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity); Thatcher H. Guild; American Academy of Poets.

About the Undergraduate Literary Prize Awards in Fiction

The English Department sponsors and administers the following undergraduate literary prizes in fiction: John L. Rainey Prize (sponsored by Alpha Delta Phi Fraternity); Charles and Susan Shattuck Prize; Josephine M. Bresee Memorial; Leah Trelease Prize.

Junior Quinn Award

The Junior Quinn Awards recognize achievement and potential in Creative Writing by Junior and Senior Creative Writing Majors.

Recipients of a Junior Quinn Award will receive a scholarship to one of several predetermined writing workshops the following summer or, if approved by faculty, to a workshop students have researched and chosen for themselves. This scholarship, worth up to $2,000, will be applied toward tuition of the workshop, travel, room and board.