Writing is a solitary enterprise, one of internal dialogue and often, self-doubt. In the world of literary writing, prizes and contests are a way for writers to share their work, receive approbation, and connect with other writers.
At Bucknell, this tradition is honored through the Cadigan Prize for Younger Writers and the Smithson Memorial Prize, which recognize outstanding writing in poetry, fiction and non-fiction. "Literary contests have been around as long as literature has been around," said Andrew Ciotola, program manager for The Stadler Center for Poetry and managing editor for West Branch magazine. "From the verse contests of ancient Greece to the competing bards of medieval times and right through to the present, contests are a way of focusing attention and galvanizing literary energy." Both prizes welcome submissions from students in any major and each receives more than 40 submissions per category every year.
Published writers outside the University judge submitted work and the winners are invited to share their work at the Annual Student Reading. "To be able to present your work is important," Professor Ghislaine McDayter, English, said. "Being able to read in such a way as to draw people into the work and actually be attracted to finding more of your work is key."
Six of the students who won a Cadigan or Smithson Prize read some of their work at the 2015 Student Reading. Frederick Schroeder IV '16, who won second place in the prose category for the Cadigan Prize, said that he thought his writing would never go beyond making a few friends and family laugh, but this has changed his view. "Receiving a Cadigan Prize has encouraged me to dedicate more of my time to improving my craft, and to further exploring my talent," he said.
The Cadigan Prize is administered by The Stadler Center for Poetry and West Branch magazine and is made possible through the support of Robb Cadigan '86 and his wife, Joan Daughen Cadigan '86, who worked together with faculty at The Stadler Center to develop the prize. Cadigan said they are committed to supporting the arts at Bucknell, and not just for artists, but for scientists and engineers as well.
"We wanted to do something to acknowledge and encourage young writers who were just starting to find their voice," said Cadigan, who read some of his new work to start the event. "It's about taking risks and putting your own inner creativity out there. For an undergraduate who has never shown his or her writing to the world, submitting something is a huge step. So it's not about having a career as a professional writer, but more about encouraging the value of creative work."
The Julia Fonville Smithson Memorial Prizes are administered by the Department of English. Prizes are awarded to students whose dedication to the sharing and the making of literature carries the spirit of Julia Smithson '76, an English major who died of injuries sustained in an automobile accident a year following her graduation.
Molly Brown '15, said that winning the Smithson for poetry this year was a welcome surprise. "It's an honor to have my work given such distinction by the English department, and I am so grateful to all of my professors and mentors who've helped me develop as a creative writer in the last two years."
If you didn't make it to the reading, you can hear a sampling of the prizewinners' work below. For a full recording of the event, visit The Stadler Center Readings page.