Spring 2020 First-Year Writing Awards

We in First-Year Writing are very, very pleased to announce the winners of the Spring 2020 Writing Awards. From more than two dozen marvelous and moving nominations, two essays in two categories (“creative” and “scholarly”) were awarded top honors. (Of course, within each “creative” essay there was scholarship, and each “scholarly” essay revealed deep creativity. Still, we create categories and honor writers.)


• Nadine Aliso Cabo Chan’s “Damayan at Pagmamahalan” * 

* Nadine notes that the title “Damayan at Pagmamahalan” is the Cabo Chan family motto. In English, it roughly translates to “sympathetic aid and the bond of love.”

About Nadine’s essay, nominating professor Tara FitzGerald writes: “I nominated her essay because to me it embodies what great travel writing does — takes a very personal experience and make it universal by taking us on a journey both physical and emotional. Nadine’s careful attention to detail and astute sensory observations really allow the reader to travel with her to the Philippines and experience the country alongside her. She makes great use of her insider/outsider status, and I particularly enjoyed the way she was able to incorporate snippets of Tagalog into her narrative.”

• Venus Zhang’s “The Water Doesn’t Like Us”

About Venus’s essay, nominating professor Jessica Gross writes: “I was beyond impressed by Venus Zhang’s ‘The Water Doesn’t Like Us,’ which is lyrical and lucid in equal parts—a difficult balance to achieve for any writer, especially someone at the very beginning of her writing career. Venus does a beautiful job of unspooling scenes, and she weaves her inner life throughout the piece, inviting the reader into her experience.”


• Zoey Greenwald’s “The Never Previously Written”

About Zoey’s essay, nominating professor Miller Oberman writes: “Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble, a foundational work of queer theory, probably couldn’t have been written without Butler’s knowledge of the French feminist writer Monique Wittig. Butler and Wittig are both difficult, but Zoey Greenwald’s essay ‘The Never Previously Written,’ merges poetry, philosophy and theory as it discusses poetics and the body in Monique Wittig’s The Lesbian Body. I nominated this essay partly because the author’s love of these writers and texts seems to seep from every word of it—one cannot read this without grinning—and because Zoey writes with such curiosity and ease about these writers so many have found so difficult. This is an essay that finds commonality in the projects of living intellectually, living poetically and artistically, and having a body. This is no small feat in seven pages.”

• Ema Kochi’s “The Home We Build”

About Ema’s essay, nominating professor Miller Oberman writes: “I have never in my life heard students freak out over a piece of writing the way I heard a small group in a peer review session freak out about Ema Kochi’s essay. ‘Miller, have you read this yet?’ ‘Ema, can I have a copy to keep?’ ‘This is the best thing I’ve ever read.’ That’s the kind of thing I heard when I walked in the room. Like all great pieces of writing, Ema Kochi’s epistolary essay, ‘The Home We Build,’ addressed to writer and activist Audre Lorde, is more meaningful in late March 2020 than when they completed it in December 2019. Every passing hour accounts multiply about the increased xenophobia, violence and discrimination leveled against Asians and Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic, and Ema’s writing about intergenerational trauma speaks all the more powerfully. This essay beautifully merges a scholarly response to Lorde’s poetry with research and original poetry about Ema’s grandparents, prisoners of the Japanese-American internment camps of the Second World War. The writing itself is intellectually brilliant and moving, and as if that weren’t enough, Ema devised a formal innovation with their poems here, involving long footnotes. This is a piece of writing well-worth freaking out about.”



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