Writers’ House celebrates graduates, awards at 10th annual LitFest

By Colby Smith

Staff Writer

The 10th annual Litfest began with the hosts dancing up to the stage to Duck Sauce’s “Barbara Streisand” last night in Ulrich Recital Hall in Tawes Hall.

Senior Sohayl Vafai and sophomore Hannah Methvin hosted the event, keeping energy high with jokes.

They also premiered the comedy video “Sh*t Writers House Says,” based on the popular “Sh*t Girls Say” YouTube video. The video parodied several Writers’ House activities, such as Writers Here and Now, TerPoets and sophomore Hannah Strakna’s apparent desire to continually throw objects off the third-floor balcony of Dorchester Hall.

Vafai and Methvin then introduced the winners of the Jimenez-Porter Literary Prize, giving each winner an award and a chance to read their work to the audience of Writers’ House students and families. Mexican author Carmen Boullosa, who read at Writers Here and Now in September 2011, judged the prose contest.

Freshman Lyla Lawless won third place for her story “The Elephant,” which juxtaposes a young girl’s fantasies about her pink stuffed elephant with her parents’ domestic strife. Lawless read the story softly and slowly, allowing the audience to dwell upon every word.

Sophomore Laura Pavlo won second place for her story “Front Lawn.” Pavlo read only the first half of the long story, which deals with a young girl processing the death of her even younger brother.

The first place winner was sophomore Nick Meriwether for his story “Apple Juice.” The story, which Boullosa called complex, solid and well-written, follows a 23-year-old man as he wades through his familiar crime-ridden streets of Baltimore while attempting to retain custody of his four-year-old daughter.

“I wasn’t going to read the whole thing,” Meriwether said. “But Johnna (Schmidt) asked me to.”

Meriwether’s story captivated the audience, who sat in respectful silence as he read.

“That story was so good,” said junior Julia Brown. “I don’t know why more people don’t write about things like that. It was just so interesting.”

Writers’ House graduates created chapbooks for their final project. The chapbooks were displayed at the reception in Dorchester Hall after LitFest. Photo by Marlena Chertock for The Writers’ Bloc.

After Meriwether’s reading, Vafai and Methvin welcomed the winners of the poetry contest to the stage. The judge of the poetry contest was Laura Lath, who originally started the Writers’ House in 2002 and will be returning to teach in the fall.Senior Brendan Edward Kennedy was the third place winner.“This poem’s meaning keeps changing for me,” Kennedy said before reading his poem “The Dancer.”

Maria Zilberman, a December 2011 graduate of the University of Maryland, won second place for her poem “Desert Animals.”

“This poem was really inspired by my trip to Israel,” Zilberman said. She described her experience riding the camels on her trip and how they were sometimes mistreated.

Senior Dylan Bargteil, who is also the editor in chief of Stylus, won first place with his poem “A Brown Spot,” where the speaker dreams about the death of his friend, a machine gunner for the Marine Corps.Writers’ House director Johnna Schmidt, sporting a long black dress, feather boa and bowler hat, took the stage next and read a short, student-composed piece called “What it Means to be 10 Years Old,” in honor of the 10th anniversary of the Writers’ House.

Schmidt welcomed all of the graduating Writers’ House students to the stage to receive their certificates and medals.

The event concluded with Bargteil announcing the three winners of the Cabrini Art Award. Kevin Gomes won third place for his piece “Marks” and senior Teddy Denman-Brice won second place for “Patchwork Cube.”

Gomes and Denman-Brice weren’t in attendance to receive their awards but Becca Goodman, the first place winner for the piece “Let Go,” took the stage and briefly discussed the influence that her obsessive-compulsive disorder has on her artwork.

Bargteil also named senior Jane Ostdiek as the winner of the Stylus Cover Art Contest.

“I directed Titus Andronicus last semester and I became so obsessed with the show,” Ostdiek explained. “But I realized that there would come a time when it would end and I wouldn’t be seeing these people every day.”

Ostdiek decided to immortalize her cast in her artwork, which serves as the cover art for the current issue of Stylus. All the awarded pieces are featured in the current issue of Stylus.

The celebration continued with a reception in the Dorchester basement, with food, cake, copies of the new issue of Stylus and the chapbooks from the Writers’ House graduates.

View more photos from Litfest here.

Click here for more information on the Stylus literary magazine and here for more information on the Writers’ House.

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