A pinprick, a cemetery, a blue dress — these were among the variety of objects conjured by poets Sunday, Aug. 11, in the Hall of Philosophy during the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends Contests Awards.
“It makes me feel very proud about my writing,” Tristan Olowin said after sharing his winning poem “Life” with the audience. “It’s a really powerful feeling, that I’m being recognized as someone who deserves to be up here.”
This year, the judges for prose and poetry were Kristin Kovacic and Jim Daniels, respectively, both of whom were in attendance at the awards ceremony. Kovacic and Daniels have repeatedly taught workshops at the Chautauqua Writers’ Center, most recently during Week Eight, and have a personal connection to the Chautauqua Literary Arts Friends contests. Their daughter won for poetry as a child, an “impressionable” experience for a budding writer, Daniels said.
“She got a lot out of just submitting her work and becoming part of a writing community,” Daniels said, “which is what we all do when we submit our work anywhere, whether it gets published or not.”
Zoe Magley, who won honorable mention for adult prose, spoke similarly about the benefits of writing contests, particularly for young people. This was her first time entering her prose to the adult category, but she grew up frequently submitting to the youth categories.
“It’s really encouraging for young voices to receive recognition for the work they’re doing,” Magley said, “because I think oftentimes, kids who are pursuing the arts, they don’t have a lot of support from the outside. We often see an emphasis on math and science, and to have a place that values the creation of young voices, it’s very special.”
A total of 29 applicants participated in this year’s contests. The judges said they were impressed with the quality of the submissions, which made for an enjoyable reading experience and some difficult decisions.
“I think the greatest compliment that you can pay a writer is to understand them,” Kovacic said. “And the greatest compliment a writer can receive is to be understood. Of all the submissions I read, I understood everybody. Everything was clear, heartfelt and truly meaningful.”
John Turbessi, a winner in the young adult poetry category, said the contests came at an opportune time, and that with the close of the Chautauqua season, he feels an “opening a door to a new outlet.”
“I started writing really at the start of this summer being at Chautauqua,” Turbessi said, “and it just feels like a culmination of all the inspiration that this place has.”
Turbessi read his poem “Pinprick” aloud for the audience. A copy of his poem, along with the other winning works, can be found in Smith Memorial Library and the Poetry Makerspace.
“This poem was for my now-late grandfather,” he said, “and I’m happy that it got this sort of recognition.”
The winners of the 2019 writing contests were as follows:
• For the adult prose category, Pamela Cottam and Magley received honorable mentions. Daily reporter Amy Guay received second place for “Saying Goodnight to My Queer Platonic,” and Chris Clements, also a Daily reporter, won first place for his work titled “Riverbend.”
• For young adult poetry, Turbessi’s “Pinprick” won second place, and Olowin’s “Life” won first place.
• For the final category, adult poetry, Roger Carlisle, Heidi Mordhorst, Richard Sipe and Carol Townsend were awarded honorable mentions. Carrie George’s “Blue Dress” received second place, and Mariah Hicks’ “Where All the Dirty Linens Go” came in first place.
The awards ceremony concluded with a call by contests coordinator Bethanne Snodgrass for all to submit to the contests next year.
“Encourage all of your friends, especially the younger folks because, as (Daniels) says, it really does make a difference to get your words on paper, and this contest is so low pressure,” Snodgrass said. “It’s just a great entry into the world of competitive writing, if you want to think of it that way.”