2014 Writing Contest Winners


Winner: Kaitlin McManus, for her short story, “Those Who Can’t.”

Judge: Joshua Corey

About Kaitlin McManus’s work, Corey writes, “Kaitlin McManus’s story impressed me with its rendering of a naïve yet knowing narrator, its depiction of the intersections of intolerance, foreign and domestic, and above all its supple renderings of speech. It’s a promising beginning for a young fiction writer.”

Honorable Mention: Shane McGowan, for his story, “Gummy Bear.”
About McGowan’s story, Corey writes, “Shane McGowan’s ‘Gummy Bear’ has many lyrical passages and offers a sometimes penetrating look at a pair of aimless young men whose bond is based on little more than the shared intoxication of bad choices.”

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

Babbitt’s Prize judge Joshua Corey is the author most recently of Severance Songs (Tupelo Press, 2011), which won the Dorset Prize and was named a Notable Book of 2011 by the Academy of American Poets. His other books are Selah (Barrow Street Press, 2003) and Fourier Series (Spineless Books, 2005). His first novel, Beautiful Soul: An American Elegy, is forthcoming from Spuyten Duyvil Press. He teaches English at Lake Forest College.



Winner: Colleen O’Connor

Judge: Steve Halle

About O’Connor’s poems, Halle states:
Colleen O’Connor’s poems gripped me immediately with their empathy, ferocity, ability to take risks by engaging complicated subjects, expertly crafted sound work, and use of surprising comparisons. In “asking for it,” O’Connor pens a second-person narrative poem that, evoking the best of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, explores self-mutilation through cutting and suicidal contemplation, in which a personified knife that “won’t listen hissing hold / still! cold at your trembling / wrist,” taunts the speaker in the language of a sexual predator. The poem “after hours” is an ingenious, elliptical list poem, replete with crisis-line chatter and original similes, such as “a tea bag / dangles in my mug like a cancerous lung” and “my unwashed bangs split like the fingers of a fine-toothed comb.” In the last poem of her submission, “salvation,” O’Connor interrogates the interconnectedness of faith, love, terror, and the blood diamond mines in Sierra Leone, putting a kidnapped God to work alongside child laborers in order to “mak[e] the world / a holier place” with nuptial diamonds. It is the grand humanistic scope of O’Connor’s poems and the way the poems’ chimes and images stick in my ears and eyes that set her poetry apart.

Academy of American Poets Prize judge Steve Halle is the author of the poetry collection Map of the Hydrogen World (Cracked Slab Books, 2008) and the chapbook Cessation Covers. In 2006, he founded the online journal Seven Corners, which publishes Chicago and Midwestern poets. His creative and critical writing has been published in numerous journals, including Another Chicago Magazine, Ariel, Cordite Poetry Review, Jacket2, and Moria. Halle holds an MFA in poetry from New England College and a PhD in English studies, specializing in creative writing, from Illinois State University. Halle is Co-director of the English department’s Publications Unit at Illinois State University.



Winner: Colleen O’Connor, for her essay, “Darling, It’s Better”

The final judge for the Kay Nelson Prize was Betsy Phillips.
About Colleen O’Connor’s “Darling, It’s Better,” Phillips writes, “O’Connor does a beautiful job of catching that moment in a girl’s life when everyone around her is painfully aware of her as a sexual being, though she isn’t quite aware of it herself. The mother’s imposition of new boundaries around the narrator and her violation of boundaries the narrator sets around herself are matched by the narrator’s paradoxical longing both to retreat back into childhood closeness with her mother and to move forward into autonomy.”

Honorable Mentions: Olivia Anderson, for “Blood Tide,” and Mack Rivkin, for “The Private Collection”
About Olivia Anderson’s “Blood Tide,” Phillips writes, “Anderson’s essay is daring, taking big chances with language. I loved how, in an essay about vampires, she gets ‘hooked’ and her heart is ‘pierced,’ how spottedness—from freckles to spilled coffee—becomes a recurrent motif. Awesome symbolism and beautiful imagery in essay form. A real treat.”

About Mack Rivkin’s “The Private Collection,” Phillips writes, “Rivkin portray[s] complex, messy people with real affection. He carefully observes his dad—the way his knee pain affects his ability to move through spaces, the way his big persona is mostly bluster—and shows how nothing about his dad is really a secret to him—he knows his dad’s online user name, what’s under his bed, how things are arranged in his storage locker. So I loved the revelation that he was seeing something new in his dad, because it turned out a man he thought was an open book wasn’t. “

Betsy Phillips, a 1996 graduate of IWU with an M.A. from Wake Forest University ('99), is the Marketing Manager for Vanderbilt University Press. She writes for the Nashville Scene, contributes to their political blog, "Pith in the Wind," and does her part to save the world from itself on her own blog, "Tiny Cat Pants." Her book, A City of Ghosts, is a collection of the ghost stories Nashville should have. Her short story "Frank" (Apex Magazine) has been optioned for film. She's currently working on an illustrated novella about an unambitious devil and the werewolf who annoys him.

Award recipients Kaitlin McManus and Colleen O’Connor will read from their work on Wednesday, April 2, at 4 p.m. in the Merwin Gallery of the Joyce Eichhorn Ames Art Building. The event is free and open to the public.