President’s Creative Writing Awards celebrate student talent

The right word here, a comma there, perhaps a couple of underused em dashes; toss in some intent, form, structure, along with a small dose of magic, to create a poem or story that will resonate long after it’s been read.

Right: From left, Shaun Hogan, poetry award honourable mention; English Professor Priscila Uppal; Kevin Ferris, winner of the poetry award; Michael Earnshaw, poetry award honourable mention; and President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

Those are just some of the technical aspects winners of this year’s President’s Creative Writing Awards would have struggled with in developing their winning entries.

As York President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri told the gathering, “It is really important to recognize and celebrate excellence here at York. Of course, finding excellence at York is not really a difficult thing, it’s rather easy. Just take a look around this room and around campus.”

Left: From left, English Professor Rishma Dunlop; Judith Eve Gewurtz Memorial Poetry Award honourable mentions Jess Taylor and Rasia Virani; humanities Professor Margo Gewurtz; and Mamdouh Shoukri

York is no stranger to producing talented and award-winning authors. Twenty-nine years ago, Nino Ricci (BA Spec. Hon. ’81), now a Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction-winning author, was just graduating from York, a small portfolio of polished pieces under his arm. A decade later, Joseph Boyden (BA Hons. ’91) graduated from York and went on to win the Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Right: Mamdouh Shoukri (left) and Katie Alguire, winner of the screenplay award 

Alumnus Jason Guriel (BA Hons. ’02, MA ’04), winner of the Frederick Bock Prize from Chicago’s Poetry magazine and one of the judges for this year’s writing awards, back at York to complete his PhD, published his second collection of poetry last year. And most recently, Jacob Scheier (BA Hons. ’08) took home the Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry the same year he graduated. That’s just a smattering of alumni, not including York’s faculty. Who knows what this year’s crop of creative writing winners will go on to achieve.

“I’ve taught in a few places, a few universities, literature and creative writing,” said York English Professor Michael Helm, one of the judges for the short fiction category. “I really think at York there is something going on here that doesn’t exist in any of these other universities around Toronto or the States or anywhere else I’ve taught. Part of it is just the core of talent we’re getting in this program is really quite remarkable.”

 Above: Watch clips of the President’s Creative Writing Awards ceremony

“The challenge is, I don’t think we celebrate excellence enough,” said Shoukri. “Our students in particular are determined, committed and engaged. The work they are involved in really reflects the quality of this University and has a significant impact on our community.”

Above: From left, Maxine Hersch, Edwin Hersch, Randi Kwinta, Rishma Dunlop, Jess Taylor, Alison Jane Gadsby, Chad Campbell, Kevin Ferris, Michael Earnshaw, Mamdouh Shoukri, Dylan Bosacki, Rob Tiffin, Rasia Virani, Michael Helm and Margo Gewurtz

Here are the winners of the 2010 President’s Creative Writing Awards:

Winner: Katie Alguire for her screenplay Jason’s Dad.

The judge, film Professor Marie Rickard, called it a “simple, but moving story about a family in crisis.” Jennifer Duncan, who teaches in York’s Department of English, said “Having worked with Katie, what’s really strong about her work and really powerful is how much empathy she brings to her characters.”

Winner: Alison Jane Gadsby for “Payment for the Ride”.

“A compelling story with taut prose that evokes a range of emotional tones,” wrote the judges Duncan and English Professor Michael Helm about the winning entry. “It’s really a wonderful story, and a crop of wonderful stories for this year’s submissions,” said Helm.

Winner: Kevin Ferris for “The Schofield-Kaala”.
Honourable mention: Shaun Hogan for “Live in Norway, 1966, Thelonious Monk” and Michael Earnshaw for “Frog with Buddha-Nature”.

English Professor Priscila Uppal, who judged the poetry category along with Margo Swiss of the Department of English and PhD candidate Jason Guriel, said the judges were extremely impressed with this year’s winning entry, calling it “a powerful and ambitious long poem.”

“The two honourable mentions are very different from the winning poem,” she said. “They also impressed the judges with their sophistication, grace, precise details and the buoyant energy of “Live in Norway, 1966, Thelonious Monk” and the intelligent humour of “Frog with Buddha-Nature”.

Stage Play
Winner: Robbie Woods for Crab Apples.

“A lean and moving slice of life, compellingly rendered,” wrote theatre Professor Rob Fothergill, who judged the stage play category with English Professor Patricia Keeney.

The following awards were presented by York’s Creative Writing Program in the Department of English, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies:

bpNichol Award
Winner: Alison Jane Gadsby.

The bpNichol Award is named after the experimental poet who taught at York in the 1970s and early 1980s before his untimely death in 1988. The award is for a graduating student who has developed the most over the course of the program.

Sorbara Award in Creative Writing
Winner: Chad Campbell.

The Sorbara Award is sponsored by Gregory and Kate Sorbara and their six children, all of whom have a strong dedication to the creative arts and music. Gregory Sorbara, a former Ontario finance minister, is a graduate of York’s Glendon College and Osgoode Hall Law School. This award was established to provide financial assistance to students with proven talent and commitment in the area of creative writing.

Judith Eve Gewurtz Memorial Poetry Award
Winner: Alice Gorzhaltsan for “Out Loud”.
Honourable mention: Jess Taylor for “Working Hands” and Rasia Virani for “The Lot”.

The Judith Eve Gewurtz Memorial Poetry Award was established and presented by York humanities Professor Margo Gewurtz in memory of her daughter Judith, honouring the best poem by a creative writing major who is completing their third year of study. This year’s presentation marked the 10th anniversary since Judith’s death and the 40th year since Margo Gewurtz first started teaching at York.

Sylvia Ellen Hersch Memorial Award
Winner: Michael Earnshaw.

The Sylvia Ellen Hersch Memorial Award was established in memory of Seymour Hersch’s late wife who graduated from York with a degree in creative writing. The award offers financial assistance to a fourth-year student majoring in creative writing with proven talent, achievement and commitment in the area of creative writing. Faculty members in the program nominate fourth-year students based on their academic work for the session.

Babs Burggraf Award in Creative Writing
Winner: Dylan Bosacki for “Interview Number Three, or the Recently Dead Optimist”.

The Babs Burggraf Award in creative writing offers financial assistance to a fourth-year student majoring in creative writing with proven talent and achievement in the area of short story writing. Faculty members in the program nominate students who have submitted short stories as part of their academic work for the session.

Stanley Fefferman Prize
Winner: Shaun Hogan.

The Stanley Fefferman Prize is awarded for the best all-round achievement in the second-year Introduction to Creative Writing course and for the best original portfolio of coursework.