The Utah Division of Arts & Museums recently announced the winners of the Utah Original Writing Competition, which recognizes works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry in a variety of forms for readers of all ages. Unfortunately, if the world really does end tonight, you’ll never get a chance to read them.
Submissions to the competition, which began in 1958, must be original works and cannot be published or accepted for publication at the time of entry. Manuscripts are reviewed in a blind process by judges selected from outside of Utah. Past winners have included former Utah Poets Laureate David Lee, Ken Brewer, and Katharine Coles, as well as current Utah Poet Laureate Lance Larsen. There is no entry fee for the competition, and it is open to all Utah residents.
As one might expect, all of those awarded in the young adult category, judged by Connie Goldsmith, are writers and authors from Utah County where, apparently, there’s something in the water. But there is also a fairly broad geographical range in this year’s winners from Logan to St. George and from Paradise to Provo.
While the book-length categories are reserved for writers who have not published a book in the category they’ve entered, the other categories—poetry, short story and creative nonfiction/essay–are open to everyone. This year’s finalists include some of the usual suspects—e.g., Salt Lake-based Maximilian Werner and Natasha Saje (both in creative nonfiction/essay)–but there are also new writers which speaks well of one of the oldest state-run writing competitions designed, as it is, to encourage emerging writers while embracing those more established.
Salt Laker Jenn Gibbs is this year’s winner in short story, judged by Michigan-based author Jon Billman whose fiction has appeared in such magazines as Esquire, Zoetrope: All Story and The Paris Review.
“When asked what ‘The Whiskeyjack’ is about,” reports Gibbs, referring to her first place story, “I say ‘birds, twins, and identity theft,’ though truly I hope it’s about something more.” Several years ago, Gibbs’ cousin was doing doctoral research on gray jays, aka “whiskeyjacks.” “Immediately, I saw a woman in the woods trying to do this work but not belonging there. I didn’t know anything else about her, but a few months ago, the first line of the story came into my head and I realized Lindsey [the story’s protagonist] was this woman.”
A doctoral candidate at the U of U and content specialist at the Utah Education Network, Gibbs values being in a place that nurtures such a vibrant arts community. “I used to think writing was an isolating activity. It’s true you go off on your own a lot to get it done, but now I find the deeper I go into this discipline, the more connected I feel—to my community, to the world, to my own humanity. Case in point: not only did “The Whiskeyjack” grow from a seed my cousin planted, but working on this story occasioned several conversations and experiential research at the University of Utah’s Taft-Nicholson Center for Environmental Studies. Beyond the information I gained for the story, I’m grateful for how these encounters have widened my world.”
Although a published short fiction writer, she says that winning the short story category is “humbling and inspiring. I know the work of many of the other writers who placed in or won their categories, and I’m blown away to be in their company. It’s also a boost for the courage: I’m working on a story now that is far from coming together, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve reminded myself that this is where ‘The Whiskeyjack’ was a few months ago.”
Just think, if the blood red supermoon doesn’t spell doom tonight, you may eventually see her work, and that of others on the following list, reviewed or published in 15 Bytes.
2015 Utah Original Writing Competition Winners
Category A: Novel, judged by Ernest Hebert
First Place: The Salted Earth, by Eric Robertson (Salt Lake City)
Second Place: The Lord, My Shepherd, by Daniel Robertson (Provo)
Honorable Mention: Danger on Board, by Anne Stark (Paradise); Filet of Soul, by Courtney Davis (Provo)
Category B: Biography/Autobiography/History, judged by Poe Ballantine
First Place: Dreams of My Comrades, by Scott Zuckerman (Park City)
Second Place: Dear Little Fish, by Melissa Bond (Salt Lake City)
Honorable Mention: The Reluctant Boss, by Hector Griffin (Cottonwood Heights); Nine Lives of a Natural Redhead, by Marcee Blackerby (Salt Lake City)
Category C: Book-length Collection of Stories, judged by Katherine Bahr
First Place: New Myth: Stories, by Aaron Allen (Orem)
Second Place: City of Saints: Stories of the Mormon Corridor, by David Pace (Salt Lake City)
Honorable Mention: The Man Who Destroyed the Universe, by Gregory Deluca (St. George)
Category D: Young Adult Book, judged by Connie Goldsmith
First Place: The Dark Backward, by McKelle George (Lehi)
Second Place: All My Fairy Godmothers, by Katy Larson (Springville)
Honorable Mention: Rat Prince of Kusa, by Elena Jube (Provo); Better Than Dead, by Jessica Guernsey (Lindon)
Category E: Poetry, judged by Ellen Bass
First Place: “Waiting,” by Anne Vinsel (Salt Lake City)
Second Place: “Ten Pages of Poetry,” by Ben Gunsberg (Logan)
Category F: Short Story, judged by Jon Billman
First Place: “The Whiskeyjack,” by Jenn Gibbs (Salt Lake City)
Second Place: “Eating Sushi in Mesquite,” by Lynn Kilpatrick (Salt Lake City)
Honorable Mention: “Long Lost,” by David Cawley (Centerville)
Category G: Narrative Nonfiction/Personal Essay, judged by Rus Bradburd
First Place: “The Other Amelia,” by James Ure (Salt Lake City)
Second Place: “Mystery, Knowledge, and the Worsening Light of the Ethereal Mind,” by Maximilian Werner (Salt Lake City)
Honorable Mention: “Guilt: Two Love Stories,” by Natasha Saje (Salt Lake City)
Categories: Literary Arts