“A Breath of Fresh Air”: FSU honors student writers during Student Writing Awards

Nathaniel Abadao shakes professor Sam Witt's hand as he accepts his second-place award in the Marjorie Sparrow Awards for Poetry for his poem, "I Dedicate." Allison Wharton / THE GATEPOST

The world is full of great literature, and Framingham State is no exception. On Thursday, April 19, about 70 students, parents and faculty crowded into the Ecumenical Center to hear the recipients of this year’s Student Writing Awards read their original works and join in celebrating their accomplishments.

English professors Sam Witt and Patricia Horvath hosted the event, which included four separate awards, each awarding excellence in a different genre of writing. After a short introduction welcoming the community to the annual ceremony and praising the student winners and runners-up for their contributions, Professor Witt brought up English professor Claudia Springer to announce the winner of the night’s first award: The Colleen Kelly Film Studies Award.

Colleen Kelly was a senior at FSU, majoring in English with a concentration in film studies, before she was tragically killed while crossing Route 9 in 2012. The award is dedicated to her memory, honoring the best formal film studies essay. This year’s winner was Diego Rocha, for his essay “The Perfect Crowd,” analyzing the 2016 film, “La La Land” for Springer’s Language of Film class.

The essay dug into the intricacies of the film, lauding its beautifully constructed shots and mise en scène. Rocha’s strong voice projected his lyrical, yet strikingly clear language out to the audience as he read from his essay, but not before giving Springer an affectionate shout-out as “his Hollywood sweetheart on campus.”

The next award presented was the Richard Chartier Award for the best essay on any topic in American literature. The winner, Michael Gusella, shared his essay, “Criticism Inspires Creation: The Collaboration of Marianne Moore and T.S. Eliot,” expounding on the two authors’ close working relationship and the critics who wrote about them.

The Howard Hirt Awards for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction honored a first, second and third place winner, as well as two honorable mentions. Third place went to Monica Jean Swanton for her short story, “Mount Misery,” second place to Cameron Sughrue for “Mixed Signals,” and first place to Jillian Poland for her story, “Leaves in the Fall.” Honorable mentions went to Andrew Michael Dabney for “Extradition,” and Megan Muise for “Whiskey Whispers.”

Poland discussed the process of drafting her first-place story. “You just get images in your head. Either you actually witness them or they just pop into your head, and you find a way to string the images together.” Her piece, “Leaves in the Fall,” was written over the course of a few weeks for Horvath’s Creative Writing class.

“We had a two-week section to write it, then I edited it with her. She wanted me to submit it, so I decided to actually do the edits instead of throwing it in the garbage!”

Cordelia Stark said she was happy for all of the student writers awarded at the ceremony, and particularly for her friend Sughrue.

“I heard his story about two years ago, so it was pretty cool seeing that he actually got to submit and win for that one,” she said.

The final award of the evening was the Marjorie Sparrow Awards for Poetry. The collection of poetry honored included a topical range from the introspective and deeply personal, in poems such as Muise’s honorable mention, “Cigarettes,” to the politically potent and socially conscious “America Now,” written by the first-place winner Thomas Duda.

One of the standout readings of the event was the second place winner for the Marjorie Sparrow Award, Nathaniel Abadao. After reading his poem, “I Dedicate,” a powerful piece committing the poet to working for equality in the wake of all who came before him and still struggle today, Abadao broke into song, showcasing the real rawness of the emotions imbibed in the poem, and earning the only standing ovation of the event.

Other recipients for the award were third-place winner Shana Sullivan for her poem, “Dedicated to Tracy’s Former Lover,” and honorable mention Kellie Guitarr, for “The Beauty of Her Sin.”

Witt said, “There was an extraordinarily passionate sense of community and politics represented in the poems and stories that won this year.”

“To hear student pieces as varied as a satirical prose piece about a fictional country called ‘Vinland’ to a piece about America in the age of Trump to a poem about the Black Lives Matter movement was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

[Editor’s note: Thomas Duda, Jillian Poland and Cordelia Stark are all members of The Gatepost.]

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