After much debate and decision, the Spectrum editorial staff has finally determined the contents for this year’s publication, announcing the names of the winners whose pieces have earned a coveted place on the magazine’s pages.
The Spectrum is an annually published campus literary magazine composed of student writings. While all students are allowed the opportunity to submit pieces to the publication, only a few of these students achieve the reward of getting their work published.
After students have submitted their work, the Spectrum’s staff and student readers spend hours sifting through pages of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, selecting pieces to publish by ranking them and deciding a cut-off point based on their numerical score.
“Then,” said staff member Dr. Joonna Trapp, “We argue for and against pieces. We often disagree. At the end, we do try and come to consensus about what [pieces] to publish.” Trapp said, “One of the benefits is that all of us, teachers and students alike, come to understand writing a great deal better by the end of the process.”
“It’s hard when one reader ranks a story at the lowest level and another ranks it at the highest level,” said Trapp. “What we appreciate in art can be so different! That’s why we have many readers—to help level this out.”
Spectrum staff member, senior Jeannine Lovas agreed, “[Making selections] is a subjective process . . . I looked for believable dialogue in fiction, and a good structure. With poetry, I looked for fresh phrases and avoided clichés. What it boils down to is a good story.”
As an added attempt toward objectivity, the final winning selections were chosen by an off-campus judge, author Jim Heynen.
In the fiction category, Heynen awarded senior Erica Romkema first place for her story “Mud People,” and selected senior Nicholas Driscoll’s “Patriarchy” for second place. Both stories were products of the Reading and Writing Short Fiction course taught by Dr. Carl Vandermeulen last semester.
“I wrote “Mud People” from an unusual writing trigger,” said Romkema. “The assignment was to pick a common phrase or cliché and to make it interesting by turning it into a story. I kept thinking of the phrase ‘Your name will be mud’ (probably because I heard it plenty as a child) and just saw this little boy playing by a riverbank. I wanted to create him. In the end the story had very little to do with the phrase, but it’s neat to see how a trigger can get you started.” The story is also imitative of Heynan’s writing style and the themes he deals with, since the fiction class had been reading a lot of his work as part of the curriculum.
“I was incredibly surprised about winning,” said Romkema. “We have so many good writers at NW, and there are a lot of pieces that I think would have deserved a place or honorable mention. I’m pleased, of course . . . but still just very surprised, and even a little shy about the whole thing!”
Driscoll’s story, “Patriarchy,” was initially written as an imitation of the author Julie Schumacher. “Schumacher’s stories were almost without fail centered around young female protagonists, and for that reason I resisted imitating her,” said Driscoll. “When I finally decided to do so, I couldn’t get the idea for ‘Patriarchy’ out of my head-no matter how hard I tried! I did not want to write ‘Patriarchy.’” Writing the story was a struggle because of the dark, controversial subject matter it deals with, and Driscoll was worried about the piece on a number of levels. “But the story gripped me round about like an overly affectionate squid. I had to write it, even though it hurt to do so,” he said.
In the Spectrum’s poetry selection, junior Benjamin Brownson was awarded first place for his piece, “Burning Time,” and Romkema received second place for her poem “Autumn Reflections.”
“Burning Time” has its roots in a rumor that had originated in a story by Mark Twain claiming that Egyptians used to burn mummies as fuel. “Something about that idea fascinated me, and I thought there might be a poem in it,” said Brownson. “I consider winning a great honor, and feel very blessed and affirmed by it. Writer’s always like to know that others appreciate and enjoy their writing, and that is all I consider the award to be—an acknowledgment that Jim Heynen and the other student and faculty readers appreciate and enjoy something I wrote.”
Romkema’s poem is the result of a poetry class assignment. Romkema said she was instructed to write a sestina, but “didn’t like the idea very much.” She explained the writing process: “I sat down and picked out some words (you have to end the lines with the same words, but in a sort of pattern—you can figure it out if you go through and look). So I picked out these words and sat and thought until I could imagine a poem around them. And it happened, but not easily!”
Senior Heidi Friesen won first place in the Spectrum’s Nonfiction category for her piece “Impossible Saint,” and Driscoll received a second place for his work “Filthy Raccoon.”
Like many of the winning selections, Friesen’s piece was inspired by a class assignment. Friesen said, “For Art of the Essay we were asked to write a piece that imitated one of the writers we had read during class. We read an essay by Loren Eiseley called ‘The Running Man’ that intrigued me because of its depth and complexity. In it, Eiseley uses a seemingly disjointed combination of stories and thought-wanderings to explore the origins of his personality. I have thought about honesty and perfection a lot this year, and how they relate to identity and relationships. My quest to be honest with myself seemed to mirror a great deal in Eiseley’s struggle to figure out why he has spent his life ‘running,’ so I challenged myself to write about it . . . . The work that resulted was a pretty accurate, honest picture of me.”
“I am pleased with what I wrote,” Friesen said, “And it’s affirming to see that other people are too. The fact that my essay won will probably make people want to read it, and then maybe they will discover something about themselves in my words. That would be really cool. “
Driscoll said his piece “Filthy Raccoon” came as “my imitation project for Art of the Essay, in imitation of Annie Dillard. ‘Raccoon’ was very hard to write because I imitated Dillard’s structure and some of her stylistic cues so closely. I felt that I had imitated her style too closely, and that’s why it has the subtitle ‘With apologies to Annie Dillard.’” It should perhaps be noted that the finalized “Filthy Raccoon” that appears in the Spectrum is an edited-down version from the one that was judged worthy of being second place. “I cut out 500 words for space reasons,” said Driscoll.
After the Spectrum is published later this month, there will be an opportunity for students to attend a reading session in which winners will share their pieces by reading them aloud.