Each spring, the Wheaton English Department celebrates its student writers at the Lowell-Grabill Creative Writing Contest awards ceremony. In 2016, award-winning fiction writer Gina Ochsner, read students’ submissions and honored the best in poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction.
Before announcing the winners, Ochsner gave a reading of her short story “Sleeping Beauty.” Ochsner, who has published in The New Yorker, Glimmer Train, and The Kenyon Review, and whose collection of short stories received the Flannery O’Connor Award for short fiction, wrote “Sleeping Beauty” in response to a friend’s challenge to take an old, beloved tale and make it new. Ochsner’s version, set in a small Russian village gripped by cold, involves a somnambulant orphan girl selling cigarettes, two eccentric aunts, and a soldier with a lisping boot.
Following the reading, Ochsner invited questions and conversation with the audience of young writers who entered the annual campus-wide contest. When asked to describe her biggest challenge as a writer, she replied, “Sitting down. Just doing it, even when there’s no inspiration. Very rarely do I feel inspired. It’s more like inch by inch, trying all sorts of stuff…I once took trampoline classes because I thought it would jostle up ideas. I took karate for the same reason, and I ended up just getting beat up.”
After sharing a laugh with students over her own cautionary tale, Ochsner encouraged them to read widely, take risks, and concentrate their energy on the page.
To conclude the event, Ochsner announced the 2016 Lowell-Grabill winners:
1st - Anna Li, “Luna”
2nd - Ciera Horton, “The Eyes of the Listener”
3rd - Amanda Tillapaugh, “Lighted Hands”
1st – Angela Webster, “When Glory Sings”
2nd – Leah McMichael, “Creation Again”
3rd – Joanne Kim, “Ba-ram: Wind”
1st – Anna Li, “Mount St. Helens, 1980”
2nd – Johann Sarna, “Makha Bucha Day”
3rd – Christopher Easley, “Eating With Angels”