By Setota Hailemariam

Creative writing in grade school was nothing more than superhero stories and angsty love poems — but in grad school, it’s a whole new world.

The Writers Here & Now Student Prize Reading May 3 proved that, as four MFA candidates in creative writing gathered in Tawes Hall to read their prize-winning poems and short stories.

Laura Neal won the Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize, with Ravenna Komar earning honorable mention, and Tara Kun won the Katherine Anne Porter Fiction Prize with Anna McCormally as runner-up.

The four writers took the stage at Ulrich Recital Hall to read their selected works or excerpts, with McCormally presenting first.

She graced the stage barefoot, joking about how coming on in heels would be like playing a video game on “hard” mode, then read a passage from her story The Slaughter. The piece, about a girl who moves to Ireland to work on a farm and shortly  learns about the grisly work it entails (like killing a lamb for Easter dinner), was captivating in its bleakness and attention to detail.

Next up was Komar, who read six poems, three of which had been nominated for the prize — Hospice, 1:11 p.m. and Grandmother’s Kitchen.

Komar opened up about their emotional backstory when asked about the inspiration behind them before the reading.

“Two of the poems that I’m reading tonight are about my experiences with my father, who passed away from cancer when I was young … a lot of my writing has come out of that experience,” Komar said. “My other one is about my grandmother, who also passed away when I was young. She was a heavy smoker and had lung cancer, so that poem kinda talks about my experiences just observing her and noticing the way that it was working on her.”

Though Komar began her presentation on a somewhat dark note with these selections, she lightened the mood at the end with her poem This Week, a nonsensical work about a girl she tutors who spouts off random musings about spiders and “birds eating Popeye’s.”

Kun came on next, reading an excerpt from her short story Missing: Yumi Itō, a mournful tale of a man who’s haunted by the ghost of his wife.

“Eavesdropping is great, always eavesdrop,” Kun said when asked how she created believable characters in her stories. “There’s a really great writer called Elmore Leonard, and he said ‘if it sounds like writing, delete it and start again,’ and I really like that because dialogue [is] so easy to figure out if it sounds realistic or not.”

Her mystical piece felt almost like Spirited Away, in that it captured a sense of longing for a loved one’s return and garnered loud applause from the audience.

Neal was the final reader and shared several of her award-winning poems, including Origin and Obligation and Town of Bowman, Chartered 1867.

“I grew up in rural South Carolina, and I was raised under physical labor and myth and tradition, and these poems really come out of this experience,” Neal explained before the reading. “I often begin writing thinking about a particular memory, and then it just goes from there.”

Her poetry reflected her Southern upbringing, and each piece was like a snapshot of her life. You could practically feel the scorching heat in the poem Buzzards, as Neal described how they would eat everything down to the bone and visualize the tight-knit society featured in Town of Bowman, gathering after church to eat crumb cake.

The final Writers Here & Now reading of the year was a success, as it brought the the community from this campus together to celebrate art.

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of teakwood’s Flickr account.

Setota Hailemariam is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at setotah98@gmail.com.

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