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Winners announced for 2013 IWU Creative Writing Awards


2013 Writing Awards Recipients

2013 IWU Creative Writing Awards

From left to right: THE ACADEMY OF AMERICAN POETS PRIZE recipient Rob Diehl, BABBITT’S PRIZE FOR SHORT FICTION recipient Janna Strain, and THE KAY NELSON MEMORIAL ESSAY PRIZE recipient Sydney White.


Winner: Janna Strain, for her short story, “All-Natural Ocean Head Lice Treatment

Judge: Stephanie Reents

About Janna Strain’s work, Reents writes, “This is a poignant and true-to-life story about the dying days of a romantic relationship, complete with hermit crabs, head lice, and a big blow out fight over a glass of milk.  The dialogue is deep when it needs to be, but mostly funny, quick, and tender.  The characters, a twenty-something couple trying to be in love, are both likeable, a feat considering that the narrator, a young man, is in the process of being dumped. I was impressed with the depth of characterization, the attention to detail, and the quiet and meaningful plot.”

Strain will receive will receive $50 cash and $50 in store credit from Babbitt’s Books in Normal, Illinois.

Babbitt’s Prize judge Stephanie Reents is the author of The Kissing List (Hogarth, 2012). Her fiction has been included in the O. Henry Prize Stories, noted in Best American Short Stories, and has appeared in numerous journals. Reents has been a Bread Loaf Conference Scholar, a Stegner Fellow, and a Rhodes Scholar. She is an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.



Winner: Rob Diehl, for his collection of poems

Judge: Austin Smith

About Rob Diehl’s poems, Smith writes, “I admire a poet who can write such tender poems addressed to things as violent and complicated as war, the Atkins diet, and a serial killer (Elizabeth Bathory) who, it is said, bathed in the blood of virgins, believing this would halt her aging. It would be easy to strike a sarcastic tone, or to cast judgments, but Rob Diehl writes towards these difficult subjects with compassion and directness. He is a poet with a knack for breaking a line, creating strange and wonderful lines…[in which] the world [feels] strange and a little dangerous again. Diehl writes that ‘the best things in life are soundless,’ and he is probably right, but I was very moved by what these poems say."

Honorable Mentions: Colleen O’Connor and Janna Strain

Academy of American Poets Prize judge Austin Smith is the author of three chapbooks, and his first book of poems, Almanac, is forthcoming from Princeton University Press. A former student of Illinois Wesleyan University, Smith received his MA in Creative Writing from the University of California-Davis and his MFA from the University of Virginia. He currently is a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University.



Winner: Sydney White, for her essay, “Hallways and Home”

The final judge for the Kay Nelson Prize was Diane McPherson.  

About Sydney White’s “Hallways and Home,” McPherson writes, “This essay had [such] a [satisfying] sense of structure.  I loved the way the sections moved backwards in time, from the intriguing moment when she can't remember where she lives (since she's never been there before and has a bad memory) to the first place she lived…What I admired the most was the way this writer's language and imagery got simpler as she moved backwards in time. This takes real skill, and she did it in a graceful and poetic way…The essay had coherence, that sense of structure, a feeling for language and description and a simplicity that captured my imagination.”

Honorable Mentions: Savannah Davis and Shane McGowan

Kay Nelson Memorial Essay Prize judge Diane McPherson received an MFA (Fiction) and a Ph.D. (Women's Literature) from Cornell University.  Her publications include fiction in The Greensboro Review, and creative nonfiction in Mother Journeys (Spinsters Ink) and in a collection of essays about "alternative motherhood" (forthcoming Spring 2013 from Demeter Press). McPherson has previously served as a juror (creative nonfiction) for the Saltonstall Foundation.


Award recipients will read from their work on Wednesday, April 10, at 4 p.m. in the Merwin and Wakeley Gallery. The event is free and open to the public.

Michael Theune - Robert Harrington Endowed Professor of English and Chair of English

Department - English