Shari Wilson of Florien has been named the winner of the first NSU-Argus Award for Excellence in Creative Writing. Lily Bedoya of Alexandria was second and Ruben E. Smith of Clayton was third.
The winners of the contest will hold a virtual reading on Thursday, April 29 at 7 p.m. over Microsoft Teams.
The contest was judged by poet Sarah Lilius and coordinated by Dr. Rebecca Macijeski, director of NSU’s creative writing program and an assistant professor of English.
Four students, Mary Gaffney, Emily Ryder, Hailey Urena and Brianna Corley, were selected as finalists.
Macijeski said she had been working on developing this award since 2019 and the pandemic slowed the process.
“I see this award as doing several important things–helping to increase the profile of creative writing and the NSU English program in general within the university and the larger community, offering a professionalization opportunity for our student writers by giving them the platform to share their work as part of a featured public reading and recognizing our students’ hard work and dedication to their growth as writers,” said Macijeski. “I have worked with each of these writers over multiple semesters, and was excited when I learned they were chosen as the winners.”
Macijeski said beginning in the fall semester NSU students can declare a minor in creative writing.
Wilson’s work is a short collection titled “Happy Go-Lucky.”
“The work focuses on mature realizations I have as I come of age,” said Wilson. “I am usually viewed as a happy go lucky gal, but it’s because I cannot help it, even through my hard times my spirit chooses to be this way. This can be good during the positive times, but sometimes it conflicts when things are not so positive.”
Wilson said she first created this work for Macijeski’s poetry collection class.
“But I chose this concept because there was this long list of things i wasn’t dealing with building up inside of me, like growing up and the dread and wisdom that comes with that, loneliness at the end of the day, being a black and a woman, etc.,” said Wilson. “I realized I try too hard to be positive to escape dealing with those conflicts. So, at my breaking point I used poetry to process and release some of those emotions.”
In choosing Wilson’s work Lilius said, “The unafraid tone of this writer’s work captivated me to choose it as the winner. The writing is raw, inspired, and it kept my attention throughout. The snippets with different eras in brackets that break up the main works are full of emotion yet to the point. Along with the larger writings, even these small pieces contain multitudes of feeling.”
Bedoya was honored for her “Reflections,” an environmental horror story about loneliness, abandonment, and fear.
“It explores the ugly side of humanity by following a young girl abandoned at the height of a disastrous hurricane in New Orleans,” said Bedoya, a graduating senior English major. “I created ‘Reflections’ over the span of months; it first came to me as an image that I expanded upon.”
Smith, a senior English major was honored for a collection of work done over the last four years. The work was mostly poetry but included two non-fiction pieces.
“I focused a lot of my attention to connecting themes of identity, queerness, nostalgia, and familial trauma,” said Smith. “The pieces I included in the collection spanned from early poems written about a breakup in the form of a hurricane hitting New Orleans, to more recent work, such as exploring my own identity through the story of Hephaestus. Creation of these works often always stemmed from me wanting to explore some other facet to writing or an exploration into the ‘what if’s?’ Creating the nonfiction pieces took courage, and that courage is what helped me lead my writing to more personal and empathic tones.”
Macijeski said when conceiving of the award, it was important that the winners be chosen anonymously and by a writer outside the NSU creative writing faculty. She wanted to avoid any sense of favoritism and for the winners to feel a sense of validation that someone they didn’t know found their work noteworthy.
“I have watched each of these writers push themselves to try new things, take meaningful creative risks, explore bringing their voices to different genres and forms, and work to better understand their own writing personalities, aesthetics and values,” said Macijeski.