Each spring, members of the English department award students for outstanding writing in fiction and poetry. The contest has categories for undergraduates and graduate students.
This year’s winners are Sara Parker Morris, Marlena Jarjoura, Scott Ray, Travis Blankenship and Gary Sheppard.
“The largest award is the Evans Harrington $1,500 scholarship that is given to the freshman or sophomore who shows the most promise in creative writing,” English lecturer Blair Hobbs said.
Sara Parker Morris won this award, which was named for Evans Harrington, who chaired the English Department from 1978-1987. This year the judge was Gary Short, a poetry teacher in the English Department.
Morris, the recipient of the Harrington award, is a sophomore religion major with an English minor. She has been writing since she was little.
“Stories and characters would pop up in my head, and before I could actually write, I’d just let my imagination run wild,” Morris said.
Her winning short story, “Eden,” is about how the most terrifying monsters are not the stuff of fairy tales and horror films, but could be sitting right next to us.
“(Winning) felt like affirmation of my passion,” Morris said. “It thrilled me that the stories I write don’t just appeal to me, and that I can take people into a different world effectively.”
There are two Ella Somervile awards which are given to the juniors or seniors who demonstrate the most talent in fiction and poetry. Beth Spencer, a poetry instructor in the English Department, was the judge, and she selected Marlena Jarjoura as the poetry winner. John Brandon, who teaches fiction for the English department, selected Scott Ray as the fiction winner.
Scott Ray, an English senior, said Hemingway is one of his inspirations for writing.
“I always liked reading short stories, but I never wrote anything until I was a freshman in college,” Ray said. “I read ‘Hills Like White Elephants’ by Ernest Hemingway, and I had never read anything like it. It made me want to try writing something of my own.”
Marlena Jarjoura, a fourth year special education major, started writing a journal when she was 8 years old. She said her mother encouraged her to write and writing quickly became a creative outlet for her. Her inspirations for writing are music and life itself; however, she said she is unsure if she will write for a living.
“I want to live for a living,” Jarjoura said. “Who knows how I’ll make money. I’m a musician and lately I’ve been thinking about really concentrating on that after I graduate. And if I make my living playing music and singing my songs, I suppose I essentially will be writing for a living.”
The Bondurant Prize is presented to the graduate students who write the best fiction and poetry. Jesmyn Ward, the current Grisham Writer-in-Residence, chose Gary Sheppard as the winner for fiction, and English Professor and poet, Ann Fisher-Wirth, selected Travis Blankenship as the winner for poetry.
Gary Sheppard completed his undergraduate degree at Mississippi College and is currently in graduate school. He said reading good fiction turned him on to writing. Sheppard said he did not read any books in high school besides The Outsiders; however, when he got to college, he had a contemporary literature class and discovered the fun in reading, which is when he decided he wanted to write.
“I usually don’t really have an idea beforehand,” Sheppard said. “Usually it’s like an interesting phrase or a sentence that I think sounds cool and authoritative that people are actually going to read, and I just start out with that. A broader way of saying it is an image.”
He was previously enrolled in a graduate program in writing and publishing at DePaul in Chicago when he decided he wanted more interaction with other writers. This influenced his move to Oxford.
“This is a really great town for that,” Sheppard said. “It’s a great program with great teachers.”
Sheppard is also working on writing a novel.
Blankenship could not be reached for comment.
The creative writing contest is open to all students and is publicized in the Daily Mississippian, on flyers throughout campus, the English Department’s website and posts on Ole Miss Today.
All majors are welcome to enter the contests, except for the Bondurant prize, which is awarded only to English graduate students. Interested students should contact the English department at the beginning of spring semester when contest guidelines and deadline are determined.
“I think the awards are wonderful encouragement and validation beyond the classroom,” Hobbs said. “The prizes shine spotlights on those student writers who are a major part of Ole Miss’s vast and dynamic writing community.”
from DM by Ave Mayeux