The annual Creative Writing Festival was held at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville on April 25. Students anonymously submitted to the Creative Writing Contest, and this festival was held to celebrate the winners. The people who placed first through third got to read part of their pieces and a special guest writer was invited to be the judge and to read one of her own pieces too. Guest writer Kerry Neville read two original pieces and was followed by readings from the students who placed in all three categories: non-fiction, fiction and poetry.
This was the 10th year that the university has held the Creative Writing Festival. These kinds of events that promote writing are extremely important and UW-Platteville did well in continuing the tradition of this festival. The winners of non-fiction were Hanna Peters (third place), Christopher Hendrick (second place) and Leonard Ballosh (first place). In the fiction category Wesley Wingert won third place, Kim Niehaus took second and Sara Rubeck won first. Lastly, in the poetry category, in third place was Chelsea Haberkorn, in second place was Roe Carroll and in first place was Matthew Mutiva.
These contestants read after Neville and a brief intermission where cookies, cheese plates, brownies and drinks were offered to all who attended. The Nohr Gallery was set up with chairs that were quickly filled before the event started.
“I think it is so important to celebrate writing on campus. Creative writing is isolating, so for students to be able to see how people in a room react to their writing when it is read aloud, I think it’s so important. It’s also important for students to learn how to read aloud. They need that practice. After all, I love art and my favorite form of art is literary art. For me, writing is like a solace. It is a way for me to deal with the world,” 2017 Creative Writing Festival director and associate professor in creative writing Stormy Stipe said.
Creative writing of any kind means different things to a lot of students on this campus, even ones who are not majoring in English. Leonard Ballosh, who took first place in non-fiction, is a senior majoring in political science. His emotionally inspiring piece explained the first time he came out to his father, after three years of accepting who he was: gay.
“This experience definitely took me out of my comfort zone but that was really a good thing. I mean it is still really hard to talk about, but writing about it really gave me closure,” Ballosh said.
Chelsea Haberkorn, a senior majoring in professional writing, read her poem that shows a perspective not many people may be able to see: someone who is abusive can also be a healer, or that people are not just one thing; they are complicated.
“It was really nerve racking but once you are up there, it’s way more organic than people think it is. It was also fun to learn about the other winners. They came from all these different career paths. It was really interesting,” Haberkorn said about her experience at the festival.
“Poetry, it’s a therapeutic thing for me. I like to do it. I used to hate poetry, actually. My freshman year I came into this school thinking all the good poets had died, but then Kara Candito convinced me to take her poetry class and it was a life changing experience for me. Seeing student poets made me realize poetry isn’t dead; people are just trying to kill it,” Haberkorn said about what writing means to her.
Neville, the guest writer and judge for this year’s contest, is the author of Necessary Lies, a collection of auto-biographical short stories. She writes about her own life experiences in recovery, mental health, divorce and parenting, and she is a regular blog writer for The Huffington Post. She has also won many prizes and awards, including the Chandra Prize for Fiction, the Dallas Museum of Art Prize for Fiction, The Texas Institute of Letters Prize for the Short Story and the Short Story Book of the Year from Independent Publisher Magazine. She has an award-winning blog and has appeared in numerous online journals, such as The Gettysburg Review and Epoch Magazine. She is now working on publishing her new book that is a recovery-based memoir.
“Writing, for me, gets me out of myself, out of my own experience. Even when I’m writing a personal essay, I’m trying to imagine who might be listening to it, and in what way they might connect to my experience. So, it’s not about navel-gazing. It allows me to imagine how other people live, how other people suffer, and how other people persevere. We are such a self-centric culture, but writing is the thing that asks us to imagine some other way. Whether it’s another beginning or another ending, or even another character. It’s another understanding of our own story,” Neville said.