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Students take honors in annual fiction contest memorializing English professor emeritus

Head shots of three students

From left to right, Janet Burns, Christopher Morgan, and Samantha Kennedy

  • May 4, 2012 1:00pm

Six students, including one sharing the name of the contest's namesake, took honors in this year’s R.V. Williams Memorial Contest in Fiction.

Tupelo Hassman, the Cal State East Bay English Department’s Winter 2012 “Distinguished Writer” guest and author of girlchild, judged the entries. 

The first, second, and third prize winners receive cash awards of $100, $75, and $50, respectively, and will be published in Occam's Razor 28. The first honorable mention will also be published in Occam's Razor, and the second and third honorable mentions will be cited. 

Steve Gutierrez, English professor and contest organizer, said, “A strong field of entrants guarantees a meaningful contest. Everybody involved should be proud.”

Janet Burns’ "Carry On" took first prize. The short story was inspired by two of her favorite British sci-fi/fantasy/humor writers, Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett (known for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series and the Discworld series, respectively).

Burns’ piece presents Nigel Anybottom, a bumbling, barely likeable British protagonist who can't catch a break. Much of the story is set in Vancouver, B.C., where she earned her B.A. and has deep memories. “The message, which I borrowed from Adams and Pratchett, is that good, honest people deserve to be punished, and that, no matter how hard you try to fly straight and prepare for the worst, terrible things will happen to you anyway,” said Burns.

Second prize was won by Christopher Morgan for "Georgia’s on His Mind," one in a series of parable-like vignettes, showcasing the struggles of the author’s alter ego in Georgia. 

Morgan said, “Having spent a good deal of my childhood in that burning state, I reflected upon its horror in this piece.” A sister piece was published in last year’s Occam's.

Samantha Kennedy captured third prize with her fictional "Amputated Love," about a young mother who abandons her husband and goes into hiding with their infant daughter. 

“I just wanted to play around with an unreliable narrator... I was able to write honestly about my own personal fears surrounding motherhood,” said Kennedy.

Jennifer Corti won First Honorable Mention for "Watching Alice," about a lonely, empty man in a residential hotel who falls in love/becomes obsessed with a young tenant. 

“My inspiration came from the hotel, The Coit Ramsey/Harrison Hotel in Oakland where I first lived when I found myself on my own, as well as a song by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds called 'Watching Alice' from the album Tender Prey," said Corti.

Jonathan Hoffman took Second Honorable Mention for "The Bell Tower," about a man who witnesses a woman commit suicide by jumping off the top of a bell tower. As the days and weeks go on, the man can't focus at work, his family stress becomes secondary, and a disconnection begins to form between him and his society. As the man begins to spiral into the rabbit hole of "why did the woman jump?", he realizes the unimportance of a lot of such things as possessions, a steady job, a perfect family, explained Hoffman.

Rhiannon V. Williams, who was stunned the first time she saw an advertisement for her seemingly namesake contest, took third honorable mention for "On the Corner of 45th.” The piece is about a girl who longs to be an actress, but is without a path. She finds herself trapped in a dead end job living with a useless mother, and jumps at an apparent escape by way of a man offering a porn shoot. 

Williams was inspired by a backstory she comprised for a photo of a girl on an Oakland street corner.

In fact, the R.V. Williams for whom the contest is named was a longtime professor of English and director of the creative writing program at then-CSU Hayward. His widow (Harriet “Hatch”) and University colleagues created the prize shortly after his death in 1986 and it has been awarded annually ever since. 

Sara McAulay, a colleague of Prof. Williams, said that in addition to his academic pursuits, he was an amateur boxer, played semi-pro baseball for a few seasons, kept German Shorthair pointers, was an avid bird hunter and gardener, and a world-class raconteur. He earned his undergraduate degree at Columbia University, his MFA at the University of Iowa, and had had a fellowship at Stanford University.


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