Past Winners

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Undergraduate Writers’ Conference
Spring 2013
Award Winners
Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Analytical Essay
(126 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Nichole DeLaura
Countercultural Noir

“Just after midnight on October 7, 1964, Lucille Miller…killed the engine of her parked Volkswagen Beetle, doused the seats in gasoline, and let it burn…with her husband asleep inside.”  So begins Nichole DeLaura’s brilliant and elegantly-written essay on noir and the decay of the American Dream.  Drawing judiciously from Joan Didion’s essay collection, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and the thinking of screenwriter and film theorist Paul Schrader, DeLaura’s essay shows a deep familiarity with noir as a uniquely American worldview, and provides a probative analysis showing how noir’s infiltration into middleclass values helped to spur some of the uglier parts of the 1960s U.S. counterculture. This was a smart, engaging, and insightful piece of work.

2nd Prize
Amanda Griffiths
Ends and Meanings: Si guarda al fine and Machiavellian Virtue

An absolutely fastidious and comprehensive effort.  Griffiths’ analysis of the Italian phrase “si guarda al fine,” which is often translated as, “the ends justify the means,” successfully deconstructs the historical and political factors that influenced Machiavelli’s use of the phrase, and provides deeper insights into what Machiavelli likely meant.  This was an exhaustively researched, authoritative, and extremely impressive piece of analysis.

1st Prize
Adam Phillips
Neon Cowboy: A Brief History and Analysis of The Man with No Name As Seen in Hammett, Kurosawa, Leone, and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Film Drive

Across storytelling mediums, genre, and times, Phillips explores how The Man with No Name functions as a necessary projection of the American experience, helping us reconcile the tension between the community and the forces that wish to destroy it. Fluent in the language and analytical tools of cinema, Phillips enriches the life-world of his paper by also invoking thinkers as diverse as Carl Jung, Ovid, Plato, and Frederick Jackson Turner. Structurally, the paper builds toward its most important discussion, that of the non-Western Western that is Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive. As Phillips demonstrates, “The Man with No Name must find refuge in genres more in sync with the nation’s zeitgeist…when he needs to be a driver, he can be a driver. When he needs to be a gunman, he can be a gunman.” In this proposition, Phillips reveals the enduring power of a true American archetype, in all of his complex iterations.

Researched Essay
(104 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Kelsey Bradshaw, Jason Finkelstein, Nicholas Kosturos
The 16 Years Crisis: Security, Geopolitics, and Conflict in the Arctic

This team-written piece offers compelling insight into the shifting economic and geostrategic importance of the Arctic region, ultimately highlighting the importance of conflict management in preventing future instability. In a thorough report that seamlessly moves between traditional research and official interviews, the authors do a particularly fine job of exploring both the potential for interstate conflict and the need for political leaders to openly acknowledge these looming problems. The report makes clear in its recommendations that without open dialogue, “an arctic crisis of alarming magnitude could result.

Honorable Mention
Evan Cohen and Nithya Kubendran
Hemodynamic Pressure Sensors as a Diagnostic Tool in Physiological Monitoring

Cohen and Kubendran’s essay acts as an endorsement for the further study and development of hemodynamic pressure sensors for cardiovascular monitoring. In straightforward terms, Cohen and Kubendran address the daunting challenges of studying the human body from within, and more specifically of syncing sophisticated technological innovations with the complex dynamics of human biology. Their detailed analysis of recent trials, and compelling assessment of the current status of the research, provides the reader with a sensitive account of the intricacies and evolution of medical research.

2nd Prize
Jordan Nowaskie
Post-Porn Culture: The Effects of Sexual Media on Social Relationships, Identities, and Desire

It’s easy to write a paper denouncing porn and detailing its negative effects on society, so easy that it’s been done many times by many authors.  Though Nowaskie claims that porn does have some negative effects, the genius of this paper is in the way that it examines porn as a “cultural paradox.”  The author makes eye-opening connections between the effects of porn on relationships, libidinal drive, and identity formation.  Reading the text carefully unveils arguments about topics as wide-ranging as fantasy, novelty, and capitalism.  Most readers will approach a paper on porn with a sense that they’re already reasonably knowledgeable about the topic; Nowaskie renews the topic for the attentive reader, providing an excellent example of the best of academic argumentation.

1st Prize
Roza Petrosyan
Voiceless Heroes: Female Resistance during the Armenian Genocide

Make no mistake, Petrosyan’s article is not simply a retelling of historical events.  She masterfully weaves together quick narrative detours with intriguing claims about the various workings of this specific genocide.  Though she certainly demonstrates her substantial knowledge on this subject, she also rewards the reader’s attentiveness with unusual arguments and enlightening connections between various forces at work during this historical period.  All throughout the text, she utilizes the individual role and experience of women as a unifying topic that draws her paper into tight control.

Professional Writing/Moral Reasoning
(72 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Emily Holmes
Commodifying Humanity: The Ethics of an Open Market for Human Organs

Emily Holmes offers a forceful argument against the development of a legal, market-based organ exchange, making her case not upon the purely philosophical grounds of ethical morality but instead by revealing the pitfalls and compromises inherent in subjecting the commodified human body to the socio-economic inequities of global markets. Drawing from subjects as varied as corporate use of sweatshop labor overseas, the US blood banking system during the AIDS epidemic, and childcare studies of parents picking up their kids from school, Holmes marshals a compelling body of evidence that matches her opponents’ preference for practical and observable support, effectively beating them at their own game. Just as importantly, her essay reflects the needs of her professional audience, making her case efficiently and succinctly without ever sacrificing quality.

2nd Prize
Maheen Sahoo
Kant and Hume: A Tale of Two Philosophers

Sahoo’s essay is a thorough and thoughtful investigation into the point of disagreement between Kant and Hume regarding synthetic a priori statements. Sahoo traces the two philosophers’ radically different views on causality to this point of disagreement. Sahoo clearly identifies the philosophers’ points of agreement as context for her skillful analysis of the question of the a priori synthetic propositions.

1st Prize
Vellore Adithi
Beyond Victimhood, Relief, and Bare Life: Assessing the Pitfalls and Perils of Humanitarianism in Global Development

Adithi’s essay is built upon the somewhat unconventional premise that humanitarian motives in global development must be moved to the periphery. With nuance and sophistication, the argument reveals the fundamentally short-sighted nature of current humanitarian efforts, the “reductive and essentializing narrative of victimhood” it produces that runs contrary to the primary purpose of development, and the fiction of apoliticism under which the enterprise operates. Well researched and compellingly argued, Adithi’s essay never loses sight of the good that such humanitarian action can bring, but refuses to let those benefits obscure the essential work that must be done to alleviate the systemic and structural forces producing the need for that humanitarian effort.

Creative Work
(122 submissions)

Honorable Mention
Hayden Bennett
Furniture Music

In the tradition of Aimee Bender and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Hayden Bennett has crafted a tale in which unlikely and unexplained events are taken at face value by characters that do their best to navigate the story’s slippery terrain.  From the opening line the first-person narrator comes alive for readers, and the story is layered with subtle humor and vivid imagery.  There is nothing ornate or flashy about Bennett’s sentences; they are successfully placed one atop another like the logs of a wood cabin—sturdy sentences that come together to form a satisfying larger structure.

Honorable Mention
William Hagberg
Collection of poems (Untitled)

William Hagberg’s collection begins with the line, “The ice cream man drove to my doorstep,” and his poems are every bit as wonderful as finding a double-scoop cone waiting just outside your front door.  The poems range in style and form, but are united in their careful diction and in their vibrant imagery.  Hagberg is as gifted at crafting an image as he is at offering insight, and read collectively these poems display the creativity and intelligence of a promising writer.  There is quite simply a lot to love about these poems.

2nd Prize
Sean Fitz-Gerald
The Boogeymen (short story)

Sean Fitz-Gerald is an exciting find. Whether a short story or novel-in-progress, his polished and compelling “The Boogeymen” engrosses the reader from the very first sentence, delivering page after page on the seductive promise that is at the core of this superlative work. Although we’ve seen the experimental use of the second-person narrator before, Sean’s proficiency is readily apparent as the device not only never gets in the way, but lends increased credibility to and insight into his provocative female protagonist whose existential angst drives the narrative forward with impressive momentum (it’s not easy writing across gender, especially for such a young author). But Sean does his predecessors proud, in particular Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, both undisputed voices of their generation. Perhaps “The Boogeymen” is the vehicle that paves the way for this painfully gifted young writer in a similar fashion.

1st Prize
Eric Weintraub
La Laguna

Writers are often admonished to write about only what they know from personal experience.  In “La Laguna,” his short story about Mexican immigrants living illegally in Arizona, Eric Weintraub demonstrates the limitations of that advice.  A less skillful writer than Weintraub could easily have created characters who were mere caricatures, stereotypes based on media reports.  Instead, Weintraub portrays the young adults who are the main characters in his story with a depth of insight and a degree of understatement that belie his youth.