First-Year Writing Awards

It is my great pleasure to announce the winners of the Spring 2019 First-Year Writing Awards. Of more than fifty nominations, these four student essays were chosen for this honor.

Scholarly essays

First Prize: Emma Jones’s “Free Verse, Art, Coke, and Other Reflections on Frank O’Hara & Ghazals,” a superb essay—thoughtful and deeply searching. Emma incorporates her own poems in this scholarly essay about O’Hara, and the study of the ghazal form reveals deep commitment to her own creative work as part of the academic project.

Runner-up: Chelsea Sarabia’s “Love and Loss,” a powerful synthesis of the work of two dazzling and deeply moving writers: Ariel Levy and Lang’s own Alison Kinney. The movement Chelsea makes through their work—from happiness, through heartbreak, and into acceptance—reveals great insight. The essay is a convincing study into the rewards of love, despite the risk of loss.


Creative essays

First Prize: Ava Teague’s “Leaving in Good Weather,” which contains sentences as simple as they are sophisticated and which beg to be read. A few exemplary lines:

My driveway turns into a long twisting slide of ice. I was always afraid of driving. Sometimes I wouldn’t bother to go home after a shift at work, instead I would go to Julia’s house, which was much closer. I kept a toothbrush in my bag and extra clothes in my car. Her dad never minded. In the morning he would wake up early and scrape the frost off all the cars parked outside, including mine. He woke up very early. Once he noticed that my windshield wipers were falling apart and I’d bound them back together with a hair tie. He drove to Chatham and bought new windshield wipers and put them on before I had even woken up.

The essay incorporates compelling poems, and is a model of balance and self-possession, command and control. And yet it feels free. Just dazzling.


Runner-up: Imani Christopher’s “Originless: A Letter to Safia Elhillo,” which fuses the scholarly and the personal and tells a deeply moving story of finding the work of Safia Elhillo at what seems like an opportune time. Imani writes:

At times when I feel most untethered to the nation I was born in and the identity that prescribed me, I remember your grand statement made in Self-Portrait as a Map: ‘what is a country but the drawing of a line.’ What is a line but something a man saw use for? Who am I to be divided with every curve and scrape that privileged hand makes?

Such profound and moving questions. And the essay contains a poem, “The Howl Heard from Harlem,” that’s gorgeous and experimental and funny and heartbreaking.
Congratulations and many thanks to all the winners and all the nominees. Award winners will be recognized at the Dean’s List and Student Award Ceremony, Monday, April 15, 6:00-7:30 p.m., Tishman Auditorium, University Center.

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