Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House students reflected on their experiences while writing and learning together in the two-year program May 1 at LitFest.
This year’s LitFest consisted of delivering the Jimenez-Porter Literary Prizes to undergraduate students who submitted notable pieces and launching this year’s STYLUS, a literary arts journal.
Prizewinners presented their pieces to an audience of about 60 in Tawes Hall, showcasing original pieces of prose and poetry.
Fiction writer Elliot Holt judged the prose category, where junior biology major Rhea Ramakrishnan placed first. Her piece, “Smooth Pebbles,” explored complacency in helping the needy.
Poet and Old Dominion University associate professor Tim Seibles judged the poetry category, where freshman Stephen Meyer placed first with his poem, “Iraqi Dictators Make Strange Bedfellows.”
In Meyer’s piece, the narrator discusses a relationship with a dictator, humanizing those in positions of authority.
Other prose winners included Norine McKee in second for “The Woodholt Hitchhiker” and Laura Pavlo in third for “The F Train Downtown.”
Roshan Moazed in second for “Kicking Hard in College” and Allison Hartley in third for “the glass ball turrets sit in lines at the factory” were among other poetry winners.
Judges selected the prizewinners out of over 200 submissions and awarded $100 for first place winners, $75 for second and $50 for third.
“I feel like I’m getting recognition for what I do,” Hartley said. “It means something that, I wrote a poem, and somebody paid me for it. How cool is that?”
Following the awards, program graduates went onstage to receive their certificates, medals and a hug from Writers’ House director Johnna Schmidt. Music and a slideshow featuring program students and faculty played in the background.
The audience and faculty continued the celebration with cake and food in Dorchester Hall, where students examined each other’s work in this year’s STYLUS.
Also on display were chapbooks – student-made portfolios in homemade-book form.
After two years of sharing classes and workshops together and, in many instances, living together in the Writers’ House, alumni will go their separate ways.
Even though many students graduating from the program still have to take more courses to complete, leaving the Writers’ House is an emotional transition for some.
“It’ll probably hit me later,” said program graduate and junior electrical engineering major Daniel Haller “It’s going to be this summer, and I’m going to come back and be like, ‘Where did all my friends go?’”
Other students say the graduation is a happy occasion commemorating the progress they have made as writers.
“Emotional? Not in a bad way,” English junior and program graduate Zoe DiGiorgio said. “I’m not sad because it’s taught me so much. It’s a beginning more than anything.”
Senior English major and program graduate Siobhan Cully, who came back to finish the program after fighting mental health issues, said the program helped her prosper as a writer.
“Everyone was so supportive and nice and kind here, so I got into writing after I thought I was not going to write again,” she said. “I feel like I have a big family now.”
Many graduates agree one of the most valuable things they got out of the program is effective and honest criticism.
“Being involved for two years, you really get to know people’s writing, and they know yours,” DiGiorgio said.
At the award ceremony, program director Schmidt told students to stay in touch with each other for the sake of friendship and literary connections.
“If I could just give you one small piece of advice upon departure it would be to stay in touch with each other,” Schmidt said. “To continue to cultivate relationships that you’ve gotten here. Friendships will continue to deepen.”