On Monday, six graduate students in the English MFA program read their original work, constituting the final offering of UT’s Creative Writing lecture series.
The young poets and prose writers were selected as winners of UT’s John C. Hodges Graduate Writing Prize. Much of the verse and fiction of the night were extracted from the winning selections.
In fiction, Sam Edmonds, graduate student in creative writing, won first place; Ben DeHaven, graduate student in creative writing, won second; and Shane Stricker, graduate student in English, won third.
In poetry, Katie Condon, graduate student in English, won first place; Ian Hall, graduate student in creative writing, placed second; and Chloe Hanson, graduate student studying poetry, placed third.
The judge for fiction was Ted Thompson, author of “The Land of Steady Habits” and a former fellow at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
Selected works tackled a range of themes, emotions and motifs. Hall’s rugged, plain-spoken lyricism, for example, addressed the universality of weariness by assuming the guise of Appalachian idiom.
Edmonds’ tale of a recent divorcee yearning for connection in an optometrist’s office probed the delicate interstice between religion, loneliness and intimacy.
The judge for poetry was Keetje Kuipers, author of “All Its Charms,” teacher at Hugo House in Seattle and editor of “Poetry Northwest.”
The John C. Hodges Graduate Writing Contest is held annually. The contest is open to all graduate students at UT.
Christopher Hebert, professor of fiction writing, explained the criteria for selecting judges.
“We try to find well-regarded, published writers. We look for people outside of UT because we want people who don’t know the students and aren’t familiar with the work,” Hebert said.
The selection of new judges each year, as well as the anonymization of the submission process, ensures that each writer has an equal chance to have their work recognized for excellence.
Hall is very grateful for this chance and not merely for the sake of accolades.
“It’s a wonderful thing that the university funds,” Hall said. “It can be really helpful, especially (in terms of money; we’re grad students—we’ve got ‘wheezing pockets’ as they say.”
First place winners were awarded $500, second place $300 and third place $100.
Hall, who also was selected as a winner last year, admitted that he had no cohesive theme in mind when selecting the poetry that he submitted.
“It’s sort of an amalgam; some of the poems are older … I wanted to do some old, some new; whatever felt impressionistically correct,” Hall said.
Even so, Hall acknowledged the underlying presence of Appalachia as a setting and character in his work.
“Place is always sort of the crux of what I’m hoping to do … using the lens of Appalachia to grapple with or contextual universal themes,” Hall said.
Ellen Orner, a classmate of the winners and a communications specialist in the School of Art, was happy to hear the fictional pieces and poems.
“I think it’s really great for them to have this kind of space … it makes the audience hear them differently: you get to imagine them in a more professional context,” Orner said.
Many of the winners have already published fiction or poetry in various journals and reviews; first place poetry winner Condon pulled many of her readings for the night from her upcoming book of poetry, “Praying Naked.”
Published or unpublished, the poetry and prose of the readers in Strong Hall were met with applause.