The Writers Studio Literary Contest is an annual contest held by the Creative Writing department at Arapahoe Community College, in conjunction with our literary and arts journal, Progenitor. While we try to advertise, we rely on word-of-mouth to keep our contest and the Writers Studio Author Series going. The contest is competitive and open to all Colorado residents. It is $12 to submit, $8 for students. Competitive genres include fiction, creative nonfiction, and poetry. We are pleased to announce this year’s winners from a highly competitive field: Fiction: “El Gato” by Kate Niles Poetry: “Contact” by Heather Wheat Creative Nonfiction: “In a Teacher’s Shoes” by ACC student Renata Dolz The winners receive a cash prize, a Pushcart Nomination, and publication in the 2019 Progenitor, ACC’s Literary and Arts Journal. Save the Date! The release party of the Progenitor is Tuesday, May 7th, at 3:30pm in the Colorado Gallery of Arts at ACC. Please read below for judges’ comments. Judges’ bios and qualifications follow that.
1st place Fiction: “El Gato” by Kate Niles
Judge Christopher Merkner’s comments: "El Gato" concludes with three striking words, which the speaker attributes to the famed American poet, May Sarton: "Let me in." This request, this beseeching, this imperative is just a lovely way to end any story, honestly, but it is particularly meaningful in this powerful slice-of-life story of humanity's inability to fully connect or know itself or its world. In eight deft, gorgeously shaped pages, "El Gato" brings us intimately close to the American West, to American history, to American industry and capitalism, to an American disconnect with its people -- and somehow this story manages to do this all through one sad and sick and dying cat who prowls through the lives of this story's characters. It's a remarkable feat to use an animal so wisely, so strategically, in short fiction, and the speaker of the story seems to fully understand this. She sees -- as the author must -- the sick and dying cat in all of us, as we desperately seek to be let into the lives of others, and as we hope that others will ask us to let them into our own. Kate Niles Bio: I live in Durango, CO and hold an MFA from Vermont College. I've published two novels, a book of poetry, and numerous pieces in magazines throughout the country. I am the recipient of the Colorado Individual Artist Fellowship and ForeWord Magazine's Book of the Year Award for fiction.
1st place Poetry: “Contact” by Heather Wheat
Judge Joe Hutchison’s (Colorado’s Poet Laureate) comments: “Contact” presents a mildly dramatic external situation—a mother (the poem’s speaker) giving her daughter cosmetic assistance by stripping hair off of the girl’s upper lip—alongside the mother’s intense inner drama. The inner drama keeps pulling the mother out of the physically and emotionally painful present into even more painful moments in her past. These flashbacks illuminate the present pain and hint at a larger reality: the fact that the daughter, like the trees the mother sees out the window at the end, is beginning to bloom. The blooming is both painful and beautiful, and so is the poem. Heather Wheat’s Bio: Heather Wheat is a mother, wife, daughter, writer, teacher, book-lover, reader. Her poetry has appeared in Poetry Quarterly, Long Exposure Magazine, on GFT Press’s “Ground Fresh Thursday” web series, in GFT Press: One in Four, and in Broad! Magazine; her other work and essays are on BUST.com, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, in Richmond Magazine, and on The Washington Post’s education blog.
1st Place Creative Nonfiction: “In a Teacher’s Shoes” by Renata Dolz
Judge Steven Dunn’s comments: To quote the story: “Here is the joy of teaching interspersed with equal parts pain and frustration.” The narrator accomplishes this through the use of the first-person-present tense, which places the reader in “real-time” so we can feel the joys and frustrations without the filter of rose-colored wise retrospection. We are in the mess, at the moment, just like the teacher. Another aspect I appreciate about this story, is that the narrator isn’t as important as the students—the students share the space on the page as they would in the classroom. In this way, this story and the narrator doesn’t feel the need to center themselves and/or their whiteness in such an ethnically and racially diverse classroom. This story is not the same old white-savior teacher narratives we’ve seen so much of over the decades. Such a joy to read for its personal and political intimacies. Thank you for your service, honor, and vulnerability. Renata Dolz’s Bio: Renata (ACC student) is a mother of two college-aged daughters, a former marketing executive, artist and writer who believes in the power of the written word to inspire, teach and heal. Her piece, “In a Teacher’s Shoes”, was prompted by a recent, first-time experience as a guest teacher in a Title 1 DPS school - during the recent teacher's strike. It is her belief that no one - be they a parent, a state representative or administrator, can fully appreciate the challenges and educational needs of our public schools until they have walked in a teacher's shoes.
The judges for each genre, listed below, were also presenters at ACC’s Literary Festival, “A Day with Denver’s Stalwarts and Rising Stars,” which took place on Saturday, April 13th.
Fiction Judge: Chris Merkner
Christopher Merkner is the author of the story collection The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic, winner of the Colorado Book Award 2015 (editor’s note: and also—hilarious). His stories have been reprinted in the O. Henry Prize Stories and Best American Mystery Stories anthologies, and most recently in the W.W. Norton anthology, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction. Merkner is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver.
Creative Nonfiction Judge: Steven Dunn
Steven Dunn is the author of the novels Potted Meat (Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2016) and water & power (Tarpaulin Sky 2018). He was born and raised in West Virginia, and after 10 years in the Navy, he earned a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Denver. Some of his work can be found in Columbia Journal, Granta Magazine, and Best Small Fictions 2018. Steven is integral to Denver’s writing community, highlighted by his reading series, The Art of Storytelling at Prodigy Coffeehouse. Mr. Dunn is also a member of Mile High MFA’s faculty.
Poetry Judge: Joe Hutchison
Joseph Hutchison, Colorado Poet Laureate (2014-July 2019), is the author of 17 poetry collections, including The World As Is: New & Selected Poems, 1972-2015; Eyes of the Cuervo/Ojos del Crow (a bilingual limited edition), and a collection of three longish historical narrative poems entitled Marked Men. He has edited three poetry anthologies, translated the flash fiction of Mexico City author Miguel Lupián, and published poems, fiction (short and flash), creative nonfiction, and literary essays in over 100 journals in five countries. At the University of Denver’s University College, he directs two Master’s programs, Professional Creative Writing and Arts & Culture Management. A native of Denver, Joe lives in the mountains southwest of the city with his wife, Iyengar yoga instructor Melody Madonna. by Jamey Trotter