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Creative Writing Competitions

Thank you for submitting your creative work to this year's contests! Results are below. Please come celebrate and hear from the winners on Wednesday, March 22 at noon, as part of the 21st annual Spring Literary Festival.

High School Creative Writing Competition


1st place ($400): Lilly Colcord, “California Dream’ ” (Swain County High School) 
2nd place ($200): Annabett Bridgers, “The Anatomy of Vituperation” (Saint-Andrew’s Sewanee School)
3rd place ($100): Annabelle Walker, “Fallen Stones, Broken Hearts, Foolish Beliefs” 
*Honorable mention ($50): Natalie Jones, “The Return of a Child That Once Was…” (Swain County High School)


1st place ($400): Victoria Alvira, “When Charlie and Dad Came Home for Christmas” (Hawthorne Academy)
2nd place ($200): Karen Melendez, “Blind Journey” (North Henderson High School)
3rd place ($100): Emma Longwith, Untitled (Swain County High School)
*Honorable mention ($50): Sawyer McCrary, “Growing Up” (Henderson County)


1st place ($400): Gabriel Gomez, “Virtuous Woman” (Swain County High School)
2nd place ($200): Emma Carver, “A Name” (Swain County High School)
3rd place ($100) Isobella Sitton, “The Infinite She” (Hendersonville High School)
*Honorable mention: Blythe Hill, “Humiliation” (Henderson County)

Litfest Creative Writing Competition

Kathryn Stripling Byer Prize in Poetry

Winner ($400): William Crooke, “Fence Post” 

This poem has the quiet, unassuming assuredness that reminds me of Mary Oliver and Kay Ryan. Clear and stark images so precisely evoke space and season, an occasion full of intimacy and wonder. The poet takes us by the hand and says "Come, let me show you."

-Eric Tran 

Runner-up ($100): Avery Ward, “A Small Child’s Hand Reaches for a Barbie”

This is a poem restless in content and form and voice, moves us from shame and despair ("ocean dark") to triumph ("a fully bloomed flower"). 

-Eric Tran 

Lyric Larson, “Little Red’s Retail Ragnarok: The Wolf Awakens Hunted Hounds”
Nicholas Locy, “Will of the Dead”
Alexandra Curry, “Womb”
Bella Knowles, “Tu Fui, Ego Eris”
Amanda Retzbach, “I Never Wanted to Be Brave”

Judged by Eric Tran. Tran is the author of Mouth, Sugar, and Smoke and The Gutter Spread Guide to Prayer, as well as the chapbooks Revisions and Affairs with Men in Suits. He is an Associate Editor for Orison Books.

Prize in Fiction

Winner ($400): Rachel Surrusco, “Metaphoric Memories”

Written in gorgeous lush prose, "Metamorphic Memories" tells of two lovers reunited, though their reunion is now what you expect. The language is beautiful, and the conclusion is as chilling as the wet stone the lovers leave behind.

-Mark Powell 

Runner-up ($100): Matt Salerno, "The Catacombs"

"The Catacombs" tells the story of a night teetering on the edge of going horribly wrong. A party hidden in a  construction site and an ancient legend collide not with joyful rave but with a blood rite as old as the graves where it takes place.

-Mark Powell 

Stephen Pierce, “The Heart Beats in Ones and Zeroes”
Jared Ross, “From That Tree, He Sees the World”
Rylee Guess, “Empty Reflections”
Thomas Rhodes, “Hush and Harmony”

Judged by Mark Powell. Powell is the author of eight novels, most recently Lioness (2022) and Hurricane Season (forthcoming in 2023). He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Breadloaf and Sewanee Writers' Conferences, and twice from the Fulbright Foundation to Slovakia and Romania. He directs the creative writing program at Appalachian State University.

Prize in Literary Nonfiction

Winner ($400): Abbie Cyr, "Heteronormativity, Says Who?"

It’s hard to capture a long timeframe in personal essay and have it feel intimate. “Heteronormativity? Says Who?” has no issue with this as it resists the temptation to only “look back” and summarize what is meaningful from the nearly 10 years it considers. The essayist commits to rendering in detail how she navigated her sexual identity through complex personal relationships, a process that ultimately leads her to declare, “No more hiding. No more conforming. Proudly, and with conviction.” The courage to write a declaration like this--in a moment in America like this—with attention to craft--is impressive.

-Stephen J West 

Runner-up ($100): Avery Luft, "Friday Night" 

“Friday Night” develops a rich portrait of Papa, a dynamo that leads the narrator and her siblings on weekend adventures in the world of rural Florida, among the playlands and pizza shops in “The Island” where the rich people lived and his house in the countryside built from stacked railcars that “beams like a castle between the hanging moss.” The genius of this essay is its collective point of view—the “we” that welcomes the reader in —and invites us to share more than just nostalgia: “We grew up teetering back and forth on the line of poverty,” the narrator reflects, but with Papa,“We were sheltered from the real-life possibilities of our downfall.” And we, the readers, are gifted a glimpse into regional identity that is both personal and shared, which is what the best nonfiction can do.

-Stephen J West 

Anslee Gozy, “Knots”
Amber Norton, “A Search for Contentment”
Rachel Clegg, “I Was Damned”
Carina Blomberg, “9420 East Independence Blvd”

Judged by Stephen J West. West is the author of Soft-Boiled: an Investigation of Masculinity & the Writers LifeHis writing has been published in BrevityNinth LetterPANK, and other places, and he is Visiting Assistant Professor of English at St. John Fisher University.

Not Normal Creative Competition

Visual Art Prize

Winner ($200): Lars Fusco, “BANKRUPT TR7”

The artist did an excellent job of portraying the power of raw emotion and vulnerability in this painting. This work is both thought provoking and impactful for the viewer.

-Faculty judges

Runner-up ($50): Macy Ormand, “Dissonance”

I commend the artist’s dynamic use of color, movement, and contrast to create a powerful visual representation of mental health and wellness.

-Faculty judges

Creative Writing Prize

Winner ($200): Vero Orellana-Rivas, “Sponge”

Vero Orellana-Rivas’ essay embraces the paradox of parents who absolutely do love and sacrifice for and want the best for their children, but who have been so battered by their own circumstances that they become, as the author writes, something like, stone—if stones could ache and rage.  It embraces the paradox of children who love their parents and need them and recognize all the feeling that they’ve had to repress and give up, and yet also can’t stay with them, lest they, too, turn to stone.  The authenticity of the voice, the blunt honesty of it, begins from the very first line.  Vero Orellana-Rivas’ essay, in a brilliant confluence of rhythm, image, and subject, makes an inescapable impression that lingers long after reading. 

-Faculty judges

Runner-up ($50): Julia Gerrer, “The Loneliness of Chasing Dreams”

“The Loneliness of Chasing Dreams” explores the vulnerability of a young dancer desperate to conform to the rigid expectations of professional ballet. At last, exhausted by the effort, she casts off the mask and shows up to a company photo shoot as herself – jeans, smoky eyes, wild hair, and a new attitude. When the photographer chooses her from among all the other dancers, she discovers a new lens through which to view herself, and the reader is left with a sense that the dancer’s despair has taken a turn toward hope. Julia Gerrer beautifully captures the passion, pain, and courage of a young artist pursuing her dream.

-Faculty judges

Grad Lit Competition 

Sponsored by Plant Vegan Restaurant

1st Place ($400): Audrey Adams, “Portal”

“Portal” achieves a hallucinatory intensity that explores the experience of contemporary estrangement and nameless disquiet. Despite this, and its heavy theme, the story remains darkly funny, creating a deep reader identification with the nameless narrator and her desire to control her own fate. 

-Charles Dodd White

2nd Place ($300): Elizabeth Fisher, “Birth of PIE”

In a few spare lines “The Birth of Pie” manages to touch on expansive considerations of how we speak and think. Through a skillful defamiliarizing of language, the poet creates an individualistic view of history and invites the reader to reconsider their place in it. 

-Charles Dodd White

3rd Place ($200): Robert Hengsterman, “The Globe”

“The Globe” succeeds in not only imagining an all-to-real future gone wrong, but manages to explore the psychological toll of what surviving in such a world implies. The big issues tackled within only a few pages are impressive for their insight and aesthetic surehandedness. 

-Charles Dodd White

Brian Longacre, “Beneath these Southern Trees”
Hannah McLeod, “Blinding Blank Space”
Joseph Wheeler, “Dinner”
Gabrielle Barnes, “dirty pink popsicles”
Kate Spann, “Russian Roulette

Judged by Charles Dodd White. White is the author of the memoir A Year Without Months; the novels How Fire Runs, In the House of the Wilderness, A Shelter of Others, and Lambs of Men; and short story collection Sinners of Sanction County. He teaches English at Pellissippi State Community College in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

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