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Writing competition stimulates creativity across University

Friday 4 October 2019 11:08am

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Four of the five winners of the University’s inaugural creative writing competition (from left) Benjamin Clow, Caroline Spooner-Kenyon, Mareike Barton and Anaru Eketone, with Scottish crime writer and Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction at Otago Val McDermid (centre). Absent as based in Wellington: Amanda Kvalsvig. Photos: Sharron Bennett.

A poem written in te reo Māori was one of five winners in the University’s inaugural creative writing competition for students and staff, Writer.

The winners were announced at a prize giving event held at the University Staff Club yesterday evening.

They were:

  • Student Prose: Benjamin Clow for The Life of George Song. Chapter Three. University Days
  • Student Poetry: Caroline Spooner-Kenyon for Saturday’s Child Lyric
  • Staff Prose: Mareike Barton (Client Services, University of Otago Library) for The Evening Shift
  • Staff Poetry 1st=: Anaru Eketone (Senior Lecturer Social and Community Work | Āhua ā iwi) for Te Hunga ora/Those of us who remain AND Amanda Kvalsvig (Senior Research Fellow | Kairuruku Matua, Co-director, HEIRU Research Group, University of Otago, Wellington) for Bulolo River Canyon

The five winners were chosen by award-winning New Zealand author Fiona Farrell, from 71 entries.

Farrell says the submissions were “lively, articulate and expressive” and reveal an institution in “good creative heart.”

Celebrated Scottish crime writer and Visiting Professor of Scottish Studies and Crime Fiction at Otago Val McDermid attended the prize giving and congratulated the University on running the new competition.

“It’s exciting to see the University supporting creative writing in such a heartfelt way,” she said.

Writer opened at the start of semester two. Entrants were invited to respond in some way to the competition’s theme – the University’s motto Sapere Aude, translated as Dare to be Wise. Each person could submit just one work, either a poem or a short story.

The competition drew entries from nearly equal numbers of staff and students, and in nearly equal proportions for poems and stories. Entrants were from the University’s campuses in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

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Staff poetry joint winner Anaru Eketone reads his poem at the prize giving.

At yesterday’s prize giving, each winner was congratulated, and given the opportunity to discuss and read their work. This included Wellington-based staff poetry joint winner Amanda Kvalsvig, who pre-recorded her response and reading to be played at the event.

Dr Kvalsvig said in her recording that she was “really delighted” to win and was looking forward to reading the other entries.

Her poem, Bulolo River Canyon, used a canyon as a metaphor to encapsulate the feeling of “flow”, a mental state in which a person is fully immersed in an activity, and which carries them along.

Mr Eketone, who shared the staff poetry title with Dr Kvalsvig, said his piece Te Hunga ora/Those of us who remain was a reaction to the Christchurch Mosque attacks. He wrote it in te reo Māori, with an English translation.

“I took something I had thought about in Māori, and translated it into English and turned it into a poem,” he said. "It's the first poem I've ever written."

Staff prose winner Mareike Barton wrote her story The Evening Shift from the point of view of a cleaner, and says she was in two minds about entering it, never imagining it would win.

Student poetry winner Caroline Spooner-Kenyon says her poem, Saturday’s Child Lyric, was based on the old rhyme Monday’s Child – a rhyme she had hated as a youngster as she was a Saturday’s child who “worked hard for a living”.

She is taking a creative writing paper at the University, and says winning this competition validates her writing efforts.

Student prose winner, Benjamin Clow, is completing a coursework master’s in English, in which he is taking a biography paper. His winning story The Life of George Song. Chapter Three. University Days, the third chapter of a fictional biography is his creative response to that.

He says it means a great deal to him to win this competition.

“I had a lot of fun writing this piece. There’s a lot of me in the story.”

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Student prose winner Benjamin Clow speaks at the prize giving.

Farrell says the winning entries show writers “thinking for themselves”.

“There is a sense in each case of someone choosing words carefully in the effort to express an idea or perception, and doing so with wit, precision and technical flair.”

The competition was organised as part of the University's 150th celebrations by English and Linguistics Programme teaching fellow Nicola Cummins together with the Editor of the Otago Bulletin Board Lisa Dick. It aimed to uncover the writing talent hidden across the University’s campuses, and to give staff and students a creative outlet.

It was generously and enthusiastically supported by a number of sponsors, including the Otago Daily Times, University Bookshop, Otago University Press, Dunedin City of Literature, the University’s 150th team, the University’s English and Linguistics Programme, and Otago Access Radio

The winning works have been published in the Otago Daily Times - take a look at the winning poems and stories - The Evening Shift and The Life of George Song, or read them on Otago's 150th website. The authors will also read them on Otago Access Radio.

It is hoped that the competition will be held annually.