2024 Spring Writing Contests Winners Announced

Six writers judged nearly 100 fiercely competitive entries to arrive at the winners of Mason Creative Writing's annual Spring Writing Contests. Six gifted Mason writers were awarded a total of $3000.

Here are the winners, runners-up, and what the judges had to say.

GMU Rinehart Fiction Award | $500 — Judge: Ed Aymar, acclaimed author most recently of When She Left 

Winner: Martheaus Perkins, “To the Honorable Judge Donovan and the Parole Board”

This story was entirely original, both a character tale and a heartbreaking story of forgiveness and compassion. And it was told through a novel approach that extended far beyond any sense of gimmickry; rather, it seemed as if this was the only way the story could be told. There are improbabilities within the story, but I'd argue that those could be considered due to the narrator's perspective, rather than any unintentional fault of the writer. Lovely and fulfilling.

Runner-up: Grace Calamita, “Romancing the Goose”

GMU Rinehart Nonfiction Award | $500 — Judge: John Miller, former Wall Street Journal correspondent and author of The Last Manager (forthcoming)

Winner: Ashlen Renner, “The Guest Star”

This piece moved me with its deep imagination and vivid explanatory prose. The lucky reader takes a journey from the Big Bang to 11th-century China, and gets to share the writer's studied consideration of the border between the known and unknown, and the twin mysteries of self and (outer) space. Impressive. 

Runner-up: Shellie Kalinsky, “Waffle Cookies”

GMU Rinehart Poetry Award | $500 — Judge: Dani Badra, author of Like We Still Speak and Fairfax County Poet Laureate

Winner: Taylor Franson Thiel, “Upon Taking the Sacrament”

This gorgeous poem is rich with imagery and turn-of-phrase. One of my favorite lines is "Bare / feet leaping through meadows, / each stride seeking to savior itself / on rust hidden in tall grass." The use of the word savior in this line is brilliant. Every inch of this poem is packed thick with intense and striking imagery. The reader is really brought into the poem and falls into the field of doubt alongside the poet. An incredibly well-written poem. I love re-reading it.

Runners-up: Tori Reynolds, “Mid-August” and Eli Vandegrift, “Seraph”

Dan Rudy Fiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500 — Judge: Susan Darraj, author of the short story collection, A Curious Land, and a highly acclaimed new novel, Behind You Is the Sea

Winner: Connor Harding “A Pound of Cure”

Within the very first line of "A Pound of Cure," the author pulls the readers into the unique world of the protagonist's relationship with his grandmother -- and never lets us go. The narrator's voice is fluid, confident, and inviting, and the admirable selection of details contributes to a riveting reading experience. I'm also quite moved by the nuanced and sophisticated approach to the theme and depiction of life's disappointments. 

Runner-up: Martheaus Perkins, “For Our Little Girl”

Mary Roberts Rinehart Nonfiction Award (MFA Students Only) | $500 — Judge: Silas Hansen, essayist, nonfiction editor of Waxwing, and director of the creative writing program at Ball State University

Winner: Robert Scott Bianco, “Tayloriad”

I was blown away by the sentence-level beauty of this essay and by the narrator’s unflinching honesty about what they have left behind. It is a deeply moving and human story, expertly rendered on the page.

Runner-up: Jaime Goh, “Napalm is the Best Disinfectant” 

Mark Craver Poetry Award (MFA Students Only) | $500 — Judge: Taylor Johnson, author of Inheritance, winner of the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America

Winner: Arpita Roy, “Onlookers: A Dialogue”

This poem reoriented my sense of voice and form, almost like the form took on a voice itself. I was lost, which is a great feeling to have inside a poem, unmoored then propelled to keep following the line. This poem made me consider the sieve that a poet must become. It was a pleasure to come across this poem and be immersed in its interiority. 

Runner-up: Maya Gudapati, "In spring"

Congratulations to the winner and thank you to the judges (their full bios can be found here)!