Winona State announces Winona Prize awardees

Allison Mueller

Left to right: senior Charlie Utzman, junior Sajda Omar and senior Danielle Eberhard were awarded money for the Winona Prize.  The Winona Prize is Winona State’s English writing contest, in which students submit their written pieces within three different  categories for the chance to win a cash prize, donated by an alumnus. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)
Left to right: senior Charlie Utzman, junior Sajda Omar and senior Danielle Eberhard were awarded money for the Winona Prize.
The Winona Prize is Winona State’s English writing contest, in which students submit their written pieces within three different
categories for the chance to win a cash prize, donated by an alumnus. (Photo by Taylor Nyman)

Olivia Volkman-Johnson / Winonan

The Winona State University English department has announced the winners of the second annual Winona Prize in Creative Writing as Winona State junior Sajda Omar, senior Danielle Eberhard and senior Charlie Utzman.

Every year, the English department hosts three guest judges from the John S. Lucas Great River Reading Series who assist the creative writing faculty in choosing winners within the categories of fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry.

Omar, an English writing student from Lewiston, Minn. won the fiction prize for her short story “Ruby,” which was chosen by author Sheila O’Connor.

“I was really excited because I felt kind of validated,” Omar said. “This is an author that has written books that decided that my story was worthy of winning something among a bunch of other people.”

Omar said she was even more excited when she learned Eberhard, her roommate and friend, had also won for her creative non-fiction piece.

“The day that me and Danielle found out that we won, we were just in a really good mood the whole rest of the day,” Omar said. “We had a reason to bond that day because we both won something that was really important to us.”

Eberhard, an English double major in writing and literature and language, won the prize for her paper titled “Here’s to the Bitch Faced Girls,” chosen by author and professor emeritus Kent Cowgill.

Eberhard wrote the paper for her non-fiction prose class as a response to being told to smile all the time due to her self-described “bitch face.”

“I’ve always been asked ‘Why don’t you smile more? What’s wrong with you? You look mad; you look pissed off,’” Eberhard said. “I did a lot of research about why men ask women to smile, but no one gives a crap if a guy is sitting there and doesn’t look happy.”

Utzman, also an English writing student with a minor in mass communication, won the prize for his poem “How Not to Be a Poet,” chosen by poet Mark Wunderlich.

Utzman wrote the poem during his sophomore year at Winona State for his advanced poetry class.

“We had to write a poem that was influenced by a different poet, so I wrote one based off of a Wendell Berry poem called ‘How to Be a Poet,’” Utzman said. “It’s kind of a depressing poem. But I wrote it after I had a big slice of pizza, so I was in a great mood.”

Each of this year’s winners receives a $1,500 scholarship and will have their works published in Satori, Winona State’s literary and arts magazine.

Both Eberhard and Omar said they plan to use most of their prize money to pay bills and to also treat themselves. Utzman plans to use his part of his winnings to travel to Texas with his roommate for spring break.

“I think the contest is pretty cool—a mysterious donor is paying kids to write. It’s pretty sweet,” Utzman said. “I [can] tell people that I’m an award-winning poet.”

The scholarships are awarded by the Winona State University Foundation and the Winona Prize is funded by an anonymous donor and Winona State graduate who wanted to show their appreciation for the university.

“I hope that the writing contest will be not only an opportunity, but also a challenge to students and faculty alike,” the donor said in last spring’s issue of Currents, Winona State’s alumni magazine. “You never know, the writing contest may even change someone’s life.”

As a Director of Development for the Winona State University Foundation, Cindy Jokela assists donors and alumni who wish to give gifts for programs and scholarships to Winona State students.

“There are so many programs and scholarships and opportunities here at WSU that are made possible through the generosity of our donors,” Jokela said. “It’s helpful for the students to know somebody cares about them and wants to support them.”

After graduating, Omar and Utzman said they both hope to become television writers, while Eberhard hopes to work as a graduate assistant teaching writing at Winona State.

The students said the prize has given them confidence in their writing abilities and their career aspirations, and they encourage other Winona State students to submit their own work.

“It’s a really good feeling when find out that your work is validated, and you don’t know that unless you actually try,” Eberhard said.

“There’s literally no reason that you shouldn’t,” Omar agreed. “There’s no bad that can come of it. Put yourself out there.”

By Olivia Volkman-Johnson