Southern Connecticut State University’s writing program is in the spotlight, as several graduate students took first place in the 2010 CSUS writing contests in fiction, nonfiction essay and poetry. The competitions are open to students at the four CSUS universities and are sponsored by the Connecticut Review, a literary and arts journal published semi-annually by the Connecticut State University System. Jim Reese, editor of the journal Paddlefish, judged the contests.
Vivian Shipley, professor of English, CSU Professor, and a member of the Connecticut Review editorial board, says, “I am particularly proud that SCSU students won first prizes in each of the contest genres: poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction. Their work is an example of the high level of talent that SCSU students have in all types of creative writing.”
Jean Copeland won in the essay category, Benjamin Guerette took first place in fiction, Matthew Beacom won the Leo Connellan Poetry Prize and Marlene Schade won the Leslie Leeds Poetry Prize. In addition, Jessica Forcier received honorable mention for fiction, and Lee Keylock and Pat Mottola obtained honorable mentions in the Leeds contest.
“The diversity of voices and styles that Beacom, Schade, Guerette and Copeland display is also a reflection of the differing teaching styles and creative voices of my three exceptional creative writing colleagues: Jeff Mock, Tim Parrish and Robin Troy,” Shipley says.
Beacom, a student in the Master of Fine Arts in creative writing program, won the Connellan Prize for his poem “The Catfish.” The Connellan Prize is named for the former poet laureate of Connecticut, who was also the CSUS poet-in-residence.
A resident of North Haven and a librarian at Yale University, Beacom is concentrating in poetry. He has been taking workshop and literature classes at Southern since the fall of 2007, even before the M.F.A. program was implemented. He wrote his winning poem in the fall of 2009 as part of his work in Shipley’s poetry workshop.
Beacom credits the creative writing program with giving him “the sustained challenges and opportunities I need to develop as a poet.” Without his professors and peers in the program, he says, “I wouldn’t have a chance.”
Schade won the Leeds Poetry Prize for her poem “Herfara Zecho.” A resident of Washington Depot, Schade is concentrating in fiction as a student in the M.F.A. program and has been taking classes at Southern since 2007. Like Beacom, she wrote her winning poem in a poetry workshop with Shipley, who encouraged Schade to enter this particular poem in the contest.
A high school English teacher in Waterbury, Schade says she loves writing poetry but gravitates toward fiction because she enjoys inventing characters, landscapes and scenes. “I was a terrible liar as a kid,” she says, “and fiction always seemed like a way to lie and get praised rather than punished.”
She appreciates the creative writing faculty, whom she calls “nurturing yet ruthless critics of my work. Ruthless in a good way… like surgeons or exterminators.”
A resident of East Haven, Copeland describes her winning essay, “Learning Curves,” as “a humorous look at my struggle with my own gender identity as a young child, before I knew what it meant to be a lesbian.” One of the last M.S. candidates to go through the creative writing program, Copeland has been at Southern since 2003, when she transferred into the undergraduate English/education program.
She originally wrote the essay for a call for submissions for an anthology on gender identity. It was rejected, but Copeland gave it another try with the CSU contest. “There’s definitely a lesson in here about persistence!” she says.
She credits the creative writing program with helping her improve as a writer of fiction, her favorite genre, and poetry.
Guerette, winner of the prize in fiction, is a resident of Ansonia, and a full-time student in the M.A. in English program. He works as a part-time composition instructor in the English Department.
He wrote his winning story, “The Hammock,” in Parrish’s fiction writing class. Guerette says he writes fiction because that’s what he likes to read. As a writer, he says, he thinks “I’ve improved more in the six months I’ve been at Southern than in the four years of my undergrad program.”
Forcier was recognized for her story, “Enough.” She is in the M.F.A. program, studying fiction. Keylock and Mottola, both M.F.A. students and past winners of the Connellan Prize, each received an honorable mention in the Leeds competition, Keylock for his poem “The Didicoys” and Mottola for her poem “Men in Bars.”
The members of the creative writing faculty see the laurels garnered by their students as testament to the students’ talent and to the strength of the writing program. Troy, administrator of the M.F.A. program, says, “Our writers are the heart of our program, and both in the classroom and with awards like these, they are proving themselves to be a remarkable, diverse and publishable group.”
Parrish, a co-director of the M.F.A. program with Mock, concurs, pointing to “the hard work, determination and love for writing that are the hallmarks of our students.”
This spring, the winners will read at major literary events at the Mark Twain House, the Wallace Stevens Theater at The Hartford and the Hill-Stead Museum. The winners will also have their work published in the spring 2010 issue of Connecticut Review. The honorable mentions will be included on the Connecticut Review Web site: www.connecticutreview.com.