Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

New Whitman essay contest fills empty niche, proposes $300 cash prize

You might have received a white slip of paper in your mailbox several weeks ago. Printed on it are simply: and mysteriously without clarification or context: guidelines for submission and an e-mail address to which to submit.

The slip of paper, titled “Essay Competition Submissions Guidelines,” asked that submissions include the author’s name along with a short biography or commentary on the piece. The deadline is April 17. The submissions are limited to 1,500 words. One essay will win $300; the top 10 will be published “either in print or online (depending on how good our budget looks),” according to the slip. The e-mail address provided is [email protected].

The essay competition is the brainchild of seniors Jullianne Ballou and Fiona Brown, who are holding the competition as the final project of a joint independent study project with professor Don Snow, senior lecturer of environmental humanities/general studies. As part of their independent studies, Ballou and Brown have read submissions for The Ellen Meloy Desert Writers Fund Contest and the Orion Book Award, respectively. Snow currently chairs both national writing competitions.

The Whitman essay competition, however, was Ballou and Brown’s own project.

“I have had little direct involvement,” said Snow, adding that Brown and Ballou came up with the idea on their own and brought it to fruition with their enthusiasm.

Snow also believes that the contest will provide opportunities for writers to submit to a publication who might not otherwise.

“I’d bet that the new contest will receive work from students who may not submit their essays to ‘blue moon’ or ‘quarterlife,’ for any number of reasons,” said Snow.

Snow observed that nature writing in particular, such as that which Ballou and Brown are reading for their independent studies, has an interdisciplinary nature that sometimes makes it difficult to categorize.

“‘Nature writing’ tends to fall outside the usual boundaries of many literary efforts, for the work of classic and contemporary nature writers is often wildly eclectic, crossing disciplinary divides,” said Snow. “Science, social science and the humanities are sometimes implicated in the works of nature writers, a fact which makes their efforts difficult to classify. So the nature folk don’t always see a ready niche in literary publications.”

The focus of the Whitman essay competition is not necessarily on nature writing, but on creative essays in general. Ballou explained that Brown’s and her reasons for wanting to start the competition were to create a competition for Whitman students similar to those to which they would submit outside of campus, and also to create a venue for publication of creative nonfiction essays, specifically.

“You don’t see much creative nonfiction submitted to ‘quarterlife’ and the essays in ‘blue moon’ are buried between the poetry, fiction and art,” said Ballou. “The Pio is geared toward reporting . . . But we both think the essay is a valuable, relevant form, and we’re curious to see what Whitman college students are writing about in terms of nonfiction: what in the world is attracting them and what they want to share with others.”

To senior Anastasia Zamkinos, it seemed that the essay competition: in that it both has a purpose distinct from that of other publications on campus and in that it offers a cash prize: is bringing something new to Whitman.

“Essays have certainly been published in ‘blue moon’ and ‘quarterlife’ before . . . but each of those venues is doing something different from what this competition proposes to do. From what little I have heard, it sounds like a dedicated space to explore the function(s) of the creative essay, specifically and an opportunity to financially reward Whitman writers, which we don’t often have the opportunity to do.”

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