Annual Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contest goes online, celebrates all applicants


Among the winning poetry and prose showcased in the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center’s Contests Awards Sunday, Aug. 16, on Zoom was a piece by May Kuroiwa called “Just Like the First Time” that aimed to summarize — in a single paragraph, no less — a woman’s entire life.

“(It) beautifully captures the arc of a woman’s life in a compressed flash format,” said Randon Billings Noble, the judge for the prose award and an essayist and educator. “A series of vectors, this story swirls through time and leaves the reader with the same wondering feelings as its main character.” 

This year’s judges were Noble and the poet Mathias Svalina, both of whom were in attendance at the awards ceremony. Noble and Svalina led workshops for the Chautauqua Writers’ Center on the CHQ Assembly Online Classroom during Week Seven.

“This is our first Zoom award ceremony, and we can only hope it will be our only Zoom ceremony,” said Bethanne Snodgrass, the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contests coordinator. “We’d like to refer back to it with some humor. The writing contests have been put on in Chautauqua for almost 90 years; the Women’s Club started with poetry contests back in 1931.” 

Snodgrass said that this season, the Friends of the Chautauqua Writers’ Center contest was fortunate to be hosted online at all. 

“We’re lucky that we had already put this writing contest online,” she said. “If we hadn’t, we wouldn’t be here this evening. We’ve got it running through the Submittable platform pretty smoothly, and we’re hoping to do some interesting things with it in the future, as well.”

After Kuroiwa’s prose piece was read, Svalina introduced the three poetry winners to the audience; he started with Pat Owen’s poem, “Amaryllis,” which won the honorable mention in the poetry category.

“This was a poem that I really deeply related to, and felt really seen and present with,” he said. “It pairs the flowering seed and solace, and shows how a poem that meditates on the ways the life and beauty that flowers grant us can also be a balm for difficult times.”

Next, Kuroiwa read her second-place poem, “In Her Bedside Table,” which Svalina described as “perform(ing) a rare feat of reverential magic.”

“(It uses) these two small objects from a loved one’s life as tent spokes that demonstrate the wide variety and expanse of an individual,” he said. “It is a small poem on the page, but speaks enormously about its subject.”

The winner of the Mary Jean Iron Prize for Poetry was for Julie Phillips Brown’s poem, “For You, Unborn.”

“It is a poem that flings into itself, both quiet and wild, a little bit prayer and a little bit resignation,” he said. “Through leaping surprises the poem carries me effortlessly into thinking and images I could never have conceived without these words and lines.”

At the close of the ceremony, Snodgrass said that the celebration of the winner’s work had turned out to be an “amazingly moving event.”

“I really thought we’d be sorry that we got stuck on Zoom, but it’s been absolutely wonderful,” she said. 

Tags : Bethanne SnodgrassChautauqua Writers’ CenterJust Like the First Timeliterary artsMathias SvalinaMay KuroiwaRandon Billings Noble

The author Chris Clements

Chris Clements is reporting on literary arts during his third summer with The Chautauquan Daily. He has previously written previews for the Interfaith Lecture Series and Sacred Song Services and covered literary arts digitally in 2020. Chris is a second-year grad student at The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where he is a Master of Fine Arts candidate in creative writing, specializing in fiction. He’s passionate about all things related to literature, music and film, especially author David Foster Wallace, jazz singer Cecile McLorin Salvant and the films of Paul Thomas Anderson.