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2008 Writers’ Conference

5th Annual Undergraduate Writers’ Conference

Tuesday, March 28, 2008

Conference Director: Kathi Inman Berens

Keynote Speaker: Francine Kaufman

 2008 Program

Analytical Essay

Researched Essay

Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning

Creative Work


Analytical Essay
(66 submissions)

2nd Prize
Colin Dwyer
One More Betrayal:  Storytelling as Character Development in Paradise Lost

Dwyer’s essay does an excellent job of tracing Milton’s multiple retellings of Satan’s fall from heaven.  In this reading, Dwyer attends not just to character development—the character in question being Satan—but to the reader’s spiritual development as well.  Structurally, the paper is very well designed.  The argument develops in complexity and import with each new version of Satan’s fall.  “Milton builds sympathies for Satan in order that he may break them,” Dwyer argues, and in so doing he schools the reader in how to “grow closer with God.”

1st Prize
Andrew Horning
The Thin Read Line

“The Thin Read Line” is a fascinating exploration of why that which is nonlinear is often perceived as incomprehensible.  Once “order” of a sort that is acceptable to the brain is introduced, we immediately proceed to see a wealth of patterns and meanings that had previously been invisible to us.  To illustrate this point, Horning tethers two surprising examples:  a mathematical theorem published in 1934, and the poem “It’s Raining,” by modern French poet Apollinaire.  Horning’s accomplishment is to see in these disparate examples from chemistry and poetry traits of the same phenomenon:  creative minds “forcing the ideogram to arrange itself according to the laws of a simultaneous form.”


Researched Essay (97 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Monica Bennett
Home Literacy Practices:  A study of the self-reported practices and literacy of children in urban Los Angeles

Bennett designed and implemented this original research project, which studied the effects of Spanish-speaking parent’ home literacy practices on their children’s literacy in English.  The conclusions derived from the study were interesting though limited (the project was of short duration, the sample size was small and the sampling instruments subject to various criticism); still, the study was admittedly intended to be preliminary, designed to support existing research and to serve as a basis for future work.  The writing is crisp and professional, effectively discussing the background, design and conclusions of the study.  There are also tables of complex data which are explained so that they are accessible to lay persons.  Overall, this is clearly an outstanding research project and certainly worthy of recognition.

2nd Prize
Jessica Kim
Beam Me Up, Scotty:  Into the World of Fan Fiction

Jessica Kim explains fan fiction in a way that immediately resonates with readers:  “Anyone who wished a book had ended differently, or that a TV show had romantically linked their two favorite characters, or simply wondered what happened after the ‘happily ever after’ can understand the general idea of fanfiction.”  Her essay is an engaging exploration of a cyberworld defined by a new group of writers who extend and develop characters introduced in popular media.  She carefully explains the historical development of the genre and its relationship to Internet writing communities.

1st Prize
Allison Norman
Hear, my Lords:  Marriage in Twelfth-Century France and Women as Teachers in the Letters of Heloise and the Lais of Marie de France

This is an impeccable discussion of how rare texts by women writers in twelfth-century France instructed men about sex and marriage within a historical context that otherwise stifled women’s voices and limited their roles in society.  Norman compellingly takes part in a rich scholarly dialogue about the authorship and impact of Heloise’s letters to Abelard and Marie de France’s Lais.  She does a wonderful job of attending to aesthetic qualities of the works and demonstrating their significance within a complex historical context.  Above all, Norman writes with passion and eloquence, showing that these texts are “intriguing and precious as historical documents–they offer an extremely rare glimpse into the female experience in medieval France from the perspective of a woman.”


Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning (31 submissions)

2nd Prize
Brian Braunlich
For his business memo to Mr. William Clay Ford, Jr., Ford Motor Company about “Declining Ford Automotive Sales Trends”

Brian’s memo is very well written in business style—direct and to the point. It effectively analyses the obstacles that Ford had to deal with since 2001 and the ones they have to confront today. Brian develops actionable solutions—hopefully Mr. Ford will listen and “Ford Tough” will continue to offer automobiles and employment far into the future.

1st Prize
Irene Campos
The Inkblot:  Interpreting the Diverse World of Psychology, an academic blog available here

Irene not only writes professionally, but her contributions, ranging from discussing the mental  treatment for “Post-Disaster Children and Immigrants” to “The Gap of Happiness: Exploring Whether Men are Happier than Women” and much more, showcase a wide range of in-depth critical analysis that offer new perspectives on many issues that concern us all.


Creative Work (164 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Melissa Niiya
Audubon (screenplay)

This unconventional period piece about James Audubon is vivid in detail and thematically complex.  Audubon has yet to sketch his famous collections of birds.  The story begins with his desire to land a publishing contract and his procrastination to actually draw.  His young female art pupil, daughter of his patrons, is squeamish about his proclivity for shooting birds.  Ms. Niiya does a great job of weaving together history and humor into a compelling critique of the often-competing prerogatives of science and art.  Ms. Niiya’s efficient pacing, creative characterization and abundant visual ironies testify to a true fluency with the strengths and limitations of the screenplay format.

Honorable Mention
Yulia Tsukerman

To read the poetry of Yuliya Tsukerman is to be invited to share her sheer delight in language.  So beguiling is her delight that a reader cannot help but accept the invitation.  Not content to rely just on linguistic versatility, though, Tsukerman combines it with a syntactical and rhetorical authority rare in poets her age.

2nd Prize
Tera Vale Ragan

Tera Vale Ragan is a poet of transformation—it is not only her subject, but also her method.  In poem after poem, she experiments with new idioms, subjects, and personae.  What all of the poems share, though, is a focus on sensuality, a rich immersion in the physical world, but always conveyed through a simple meter and spare language.  She doesn’t send one rushing for the dictionary; her fireworks explode at ordinary scenes:  teenagers hanging out by the river, a furnace belching chrome smoke in the iron belt, a girl wedged between her parents at a friend’s mom’s funeral.  Ragan’s work enables the reader to perceive beauty in the quotidian with a depth that comes only from the most fully imagined poetry.

2nd Prize
Anthony Marra
 When She Looked Into the Sea (short story)

A typhoon is on the way, and the level-headed daughter may or may not be adequate to prompting her drunk father to board up the house or get out of town.  This engaging short story evocatively handles grief and self-destruction in a voice that’s spare, elegiac, pitiless.  When the typhoon comes, the results clarify the story’s central dilemma (perhaps too neatly); but the story nevertheless telegraphs a trove of information about three lives packed in a compact space at the edge of the world.

1st Prize
Janet Thielke
 Camelot, Georgia (short story)

The Thielke story is quite well-written, both in terms of prose style and story structure.  It has strong narrative drive.  It provides a nice sense of the collective fantasy life of a small town and the kind of attentiveness and amnesia that go with apparent disruptions of the town’s normal functioning.  The disruption in this case is the elliptically-presented rape and murder of a local teenaged girl.  The ensuing story shows the rest of town trying to find the girl, and to grapple with her loss.  Told from multiple points-of-view, this story thematizes the erasure of identity.  The actual loss of the girl suggests how little she (or any of them) is ever actually seen: “As weeks of searching stretched on they found themselves fighting over her details: did she pack a lunch or buy? Were her eyes blue or gray? One day they were certain her laugh was low and melancholy, her smile sad, her stride elegant. The next they remembered a girlish giggle, a snaggle tooth, a slouch.”

1st Prize
Naira Kuzmich
 Inheritance (short story)

Kuzmich’s dialogue—brisk, honest, unflinching—covers a lot of distance quickly.  We meet our first-person heroine as a man is pulling down her pants, in tenderness or violence we do not know.  What unfolds is a love story between a Turk and an Armenian, a stripped-down Romeo and Juliet that vests its characters with the weight of history but lets them move freely through various ideological planes—gender expectation, the life of the expatriate, young love.  Kuzmich’s work is light and rhetorically playful, in the tradition of Milan Kundera.  Kuzmich doesn’t worry whether the reader will like her protagonist:  she plunges headlong into the action and lets the character speak for herself.


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