Student literati ruminate on their craft

Through the tap of keyboards it is sometimes possible to hear the twirl of a creative pen. This year’s winners of the Benjamin B. Wainwright Prize for Fiction and the Bullock Poetry Prize of the American Academy of Poets have written outstanding creative works despite the demands of a Williams schedule. The contests, sponsored by the English department, culminated with a public reading on April 20. Allegra Hyde ’10 won the prize for fiction, and Ben Davidson ’10 and Sofia Torres ’09 won the prize for poetry.

Davidson, Hyde and Torres have been writing since their youth. For Hyde, it’s an interest she traces to her childhood. “I’ve been writing stories since I was little,” she said. Whether they wrote once a day or once a year, the contest winners have maintained an unwavering passion for creative writing.

However, at Williams there is often little time to sleep properly, let alone write creatively. In this respect, Davidson, Hyde and Torres make time for writing whenever possible by incorporating it into their schedules. “It’s definitely hard to find a solid block of time to just sit down,” Hyde said. Instead, she muses about new ideas while running, and jots down funny lines in a notebook.

Both Torres and Davidson have taken advantage of the creative writing courses Williams offers. “Unless I’m enrolled in a creative writing course, I don’t find the time to write consistently,” Torres said, who has taken three such courses to date. Davidson wrote two of his winning poems while taking English 281: The Writing of Poetry.

Regardless of time restraints, the winners admit that their schoolwork and creative writing often inform each other. “Poetry can help you think about pressing words for meaning, making sure you chose your words carefully,” Davidson said. Torres agreed. “I’ve found that a good sense of compositional rhythm is essential to both [creative and analytical writing] – the sound of a word contributes to its impact just as much as its meaning does.”

The honorable mentions for fiction included Andrew Triska ’11 and Sam Weinreich ’09. Honorable mentions for poetry were awarded to Dan Chu ’10, Michaela Morton ’12 and Matthew Wollin ’09.

Ben Davidson ’10
Poetry Winner

Davidson’s poetry is inspired by “relationships and things that I’m feeling, seeing and reading about.” His studies in history sometimes inform his work, but really, he’s most interested in “mundane things.” His favorite writing comes from the likes of Faulkner, Hemingway, Hughes and Whitman. When asked to summarize “Theodore Rousseau ‘Untitled (Wooded Landscape with Figure)’,” a poem about the painter himself, Davidson said, “The painting is really dark – and there’s light at the end of the forest, but you can’t really make out the figure very well, and its mostly me wondering what he would be thinking.”

Allegra Hyde ’10
Fiction Winner

“I love stories in general, real or fake,” Hyde said in response to where she draws her inspiration. Her fiction is stitched together from Hyde’s interest in utopian communes – such as the one described in her winning story, “Free Love,” and the information she learns in her American studies classes. She likes to read historical fiction and watch documentary film. When asked to summarize her short story, Hyde said, “‘Free Love’ is about a girl named Almond Joy who grew up in a hippie-commune and then was taken to live with her grandmother. She’s thrust into an unfamiliar world. It’s about her discovery of a whole new culture.”

Sofia Torres ’09
Poetry Winner

On the connection between her literature and major, Torres said, “the themes and ideas in my writing definitely reflect whatever work I’m doing in the studio at the time.” Right now, she is exploring the existence (and non-existence) of the ego in humans and animals. She has recently enjoyed Murakami Haruki’s short stories, and her favorite poets are Charles Simic and James Tate. When asked to summarize her poem, Torres said, “‘Pure and Fearful Children’ is a brief poem about a mother observing her child playing.”

SELECTIONS FROM THE BULLOCK AND WAINWRIGHT PRIZE-WINNING ENTRIES

“Lavender Soaps”
By Ben Davidson

Lavender soaps lie inscrutably on the polished kitchen floor,
Like purple bruises on the white linoleum.
Maybe my wife had knocked over their basket.
The stained floor reminds me of that time we went to the country.
The chickens in the peach orchard woke us up each morning with their clucking
And the whitewashed house looked tiny in that field.
I could see some purple flowers down by the orchard.
Maybe they had been lavender.

“Pure and Fearful Children”
By Sofia Torres

They are young
and have spent all day
on a public lawn,

rolling around on it,
being what one
might call playful,

and getting into
little fights. I watched
them claw at the air

and argue; quickly
forget and re-learn
the rules. I looked away

until I heard my own
son (who does not yet know
what is a game

and what is reserved
for grown-ups) yell:
“I can change shapes

but I’m still an animal!”
For years I had thought
him a pure and fearful

child; but suddenly
his voice was
violent and insane –

immoderately insistent.
Later, in the car, I played
music and ignored him

but all the way home he
kept saying to me: “did we
miss our suppertime?”

Excerpt, “Free Love”
By Allegra Hyde

By the time I was sixteen I had fallen in love eight times, and things showed no sign of slowing down. Leave the tall boys for the tall girls, my grandma says. But she knows I get attached to all kinds of people – thick, thin, black, white, strong, feeble, obstreperous, prosperous, puckish, mustached, freckled, unibrowed, eye-patched.

Love is grand, Nana says. Divorce is a hundred grand.

But to me, love is like having to pee real bad – or, like expatriation from Zimbabwe when one is suspected of espionage, and possibly treason.
Sometimes it can’t be helped.

Sunday rolls in without asking anyone’s permission. I’m drenched in the usual listlessness of a stranded amorata. Nana’s in the kitchen. Odds-on that she’s got one hand in a mixing bowl, one eye on my bedroom door. I can hear her rattling through cupboards, spitting out sayings like a wrinkled old almanac. Some people are like blisters, she proclaims, they only appear when the work is done. There is a volley of throat clearing and expectant spoon tapping.

Nana speaks in the language of old wives – wives who’ve slipped themselves a little something, if you know what I mean. She gets that I like sayings I can bite, chew, and put in my pocket for later. And, if there wasn’t an envelope stuffed with uncomfortable content leering at me from my bedroom dresser, I might act less like a blister, and more towards the sort of person Nana prefers – namely, someone who helps make carrot coleslaw and freeze homemade orange juice popsicles.

Earlier today, when Dr. Virginia “Call-Me-Gina” Eubanks, Ph.D., put down her note pad, smoothed her blouse, and remarked, “Ms. Joy, I know you are unusual – I mean I know your situation is unusual,” I assumed she was referencing my particular knowledge and concern for the neo-liberal indigenous movement mobilizing in Ecuador. Or, possibly she may have meant my fondness for wool socks and twig tea. There’s even a chance her comment alluded to my mother, who took a trip on acid several months ago, and hasn’t come back; or to my father, whose alarmingly progressive leadership on the Free Oaks Commune has caught the attention of the Federal Government; or to my own grimly disorienting reality as an uprooted flowerchild sent to live with a woman who owns four types of muffin pan and table cloths for every holiday.

But I couldn’t tell from the tone of her voice.