Arts & Culture / Mosaic / May 24, 2017

Davenport winners share the meaning behind their work

Ella Thomas won first place in the Davenport Fiction Contest. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Sophomore Ella Thomas never intended to become a feminist writer. For much of her life she didn’t intend to become a writer at all, though others saw it coming.

“My mom and teachers, starting about third grade, always praised my writing,” Thomas said. Eight-year-old Thomas did, after all, start a novel in that class, which in many ways set the precedent for all of Thomas’ following work.

“All my stories have an only child and a single mom, because I’m an only child with a single mom,” Thomas said. The book features Charlotte Rose (any relation to Charlie Rose being completely accidental), a spunky young girl who finds out that her entire family have been witches. Charlotte, of course, is also a witch and has to navigate the unfamiliar waters of her new powers with the help of her mother.

“I think I wrote like four chapters, maybe six,” Thomas said. She noted strange parallels between her first story in third grade and the story that won her Davenport’s first prize for fiction. The winning story involves a teenage girl who turns to miscarriage-inducing Chinese tea because she can’t afford an abortion.

“As a third grader, I didn’t identify as a feminist yet or anything, but I think you can see some feminist undertones there … I was raised by a very feminist, progressive mom.”

Tricia Thomas gave birth to Ella Thomas when she was 35 years old, on a Mother’s Day. By the next Mother’s Day, Tricia Thomas had made the decision to raise Ella Thomas on her own. Since then, Tricia Thomas has been nothing but an inspiration to her daughter.

Thomas recalled a period in her teens when she almost gave up on writing entirely, but her mother still encouraged her.

“I think my mother knew before I did that I was going to be a writer,” Thomas said.

 

 

Aidan Murphy won third place in the Davenport Fiction contest. (Julian Blye/TKS)

Junior Aidan Murphy sat in the publication office in Seymour Union, leaned back on a faded couch cushion to reflect on his personal journey with writing.

“It was my dad who really got me into writing,” he said. “We took these writing classes. Kathleen was the leader of the group. This was at a library nearby, when I was in middle school and beginning high school … They read some of my first short realistic pieces, like this one about hair donation.”

Murphy remembered receiving constant praise from the adults in the class for his work. He remembered the time fondly. Murphy now focuses mostly on realistic fiction and nonfiction, specifically playwriting. His usual focus on the realistic, Murphy said, is what made his short story “The Love Organ” strange for him.

“It’s more fantasy,” he said, referring to the odd narrative of a scholar falling in love with a statue. Murphy then delved even further back into his memory to “the days of the middle school novel.”

“It was going to be an epic series of novels, way more expansive. Lucas Cooper and the Pirates of Kairoku,” Murphy said. “I never got past one chapter.”

Murphy notes that “The Love Organ” forms a balance between his early ambitions and his current realistic style. The speaker is an aspiring archaeologist whose voice mimics nonfiction so carefully that the Davenport judge had to look up the stone-worshipping ArŽbin people to make sure they weren’t real. The content of the story has fantastical elements that Murphy feels helped him address deep themes.

 

Diandra Soemardi won the Audrey Collet-Conard Prize in Poetry. (Dan Perez/TKS)

The laboratory senior Diandra Soemardi described, deep in the basement of the Science and Mathematics Center (SMC) and filled with complex machines, seems like an unlikely place to find the winner of the Audrey Collet-Conard Prize in Poetry. Majoring in chemistry and minoring in creative writing allows Soemardi a diversity of learning that she greatly values.

“It helps to bring a new perspective to all my classes,” Soemardi said.

Soemardi traced learning back to the core process of exploration, an experience she tried to capture in her prose poem, which describes a microscope as a toy.

“I have fun in both fields,” Soemardi said. “A microscope is a toy even as you grow up. It’s a preservation of playing, because we’re adults, but playing is importantÉWhat is playing if not exploring and experimenting? I think that playing happens in any field.”

“Some of my friends who are hard-core SMC rats say I should have taken more science, math, physics stuff to add to my skill set, but I also need a writing skill set. I have to write lab reports, and translating science-language is an art,” Soemardi said. By combining her creative writing and chemistry skills, Soemardi hopes to bring together the scientific world and the general world.

 

Tricia Duke

Tags:  aidan murphy Creative writing davenport diandra soemardi ella thomas english fiction playwriting Poetry

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