Every year, during the fall, Maricopa Community Colleges holds a creative writing competition. The awards culminate in an annual Creative Writing Awards dinner where winners and honorable mentions are recognized for their individual achievements. Mesa Community College participants earned 11 of the 26 total prizes, the most of any individual school. The contest allows students to submit in each of the four categories; essay, fiction, poetry, one-act play/script.
Maja Zmyslowski, the leader of the pack, won an award in every single category. She was awarded third place in the essay category for her piece, “The Alchemy of Pierogi”; first place in the fiction category for her story entitled, “Flipping the Bird”; third place for her one act play, “A Boat Afloat”; and an honorable mention in poetry for her piece “Citizen Ghost”. Spencer Littman followed with a third-place win in the fiction category, for his story, “Elephatine”; an honorable mention in poetry for the piece, “seven minutes”; and an honorable mention for the essay “Like Venom”.
Jaime Faulkner took home first place for her poem, “On the corner of Rural and Guadalupe”, Jessica Gnoza took home second place for her poem, “Roundabout”, and Taylor Shepard received third place for her poem, “How I’ll Use It.” Jacquelyn Rowe also took home an award in fiction for her short story, “Welcome to Everton”. When asked about how it feels to receive recognition at this level she said, “Not to toot my own horn, I feel like I’m a pretty good writer, but it definitely means a lot to have people at such a high level, not even people that I know at MCC…look at my work and say ‘This is good enough to win’ and that feels really, really good.”
Jacquelyn went on to talk about what a win in this competition means to her as a writer. She said, “I’m really proud that I was able to write something that they liked enough and I definitely do feel validated and it definitely gives me a lot of confidence.” Students who entered the contest subjected themselves to the scrutiny of a large panel and with that came long nights of preparation. First drafts, edits and re-writes; second drafts, edits and re-writes; a grueling process that for some students reaped excellent rewards.
Jessica Gnoza, who wrote a poem about her grandmother, spoke about how the school helped prepare her for competition preparation, “Just providing the space to share my work because I had written a lot at home but really having a community and getting feedback was really invaluable.” Jessica went on to discuss how hard she worked in preparation for the contest, all semester and right up to the final moments, “(I) almost missed the deadline there, it was extended, so I was really lucky.”When the dust settled Mesa Community College received over 70 percent of the poetry awards and just under 50 percent of the awards total.
Joshua Rathkamp, Creative Writing Director at MCC, spoke on how the teachers and the program have helped students grow. “We have really talented students in the East Valley that come to Mesa…so when you have a lot of really strong writers working together everyone grows, teachers grow, and all of the students grow…I don’t think it’s the program I think it’s the wonderful talent of the East Valley. It must be something in the water.” Winning students will also be published in a book called “Passages.”