2022 Creative Writing Prize Winners

The Creative Writing Program awards a number of prizes annually to University of Pennsylvania students. See below for our most recent prize winners; previous winners are listed at the bottom of this page. Details on our 2023 prizes and how to submit work will be available on our website in early 2023.

Congratulations to the 2022 recipients of the Creative Writing Prizes:

The Peregrine Prize from the Academy of American Poets
Awarded to the best original poetry by a graduate student

Winner: Knar Gavin

Contest judge Rachel Zolf writes: Gavin’s incisive, propulsive poems “glitch the bone machine” of “fossil capital” and “plastiform” life, raging towards a sustainable, interspecies “democracy-to-come.” These sharp poems “cut the arms off all the lifeboats” as they make a fierce call to “tear the fossil-hankering factory down.” “We’re coming,” Gavin writes, and I believe them.

Honorable Mention: Michael Martin Shea


The College Alumni Society Poetry Prize
Awarded to the best original poetry by an undergraduate student

Winner: Pamela de la Cruz

Contest judge Rachel Zolf writes: Pamela de la Cruz’s powerfully violent poems are “composed of slices of feathers, held together by strings of branches of strings of clots” bursting on the page. Steeped in Mexican culture and history and built using various innovative formal strategies, this work “Dives somewhere down / your throat, / pecki  ng at your liver.” I am happily cannibalized.

Second Place: Sofia Sears

Contest judge Rachel Zolf writes: Sears displays a sophisticated grasp of image and form as they investigate the “unimaginative species of terror” inflicted on girlhood. “[U]nscalable & water-voiced,” these slippery, pulsing poems are always already “escape-routing” a “pink and lacquered” life, contesting “female   ness” at every turn of the writerly tide.

Third Place: Peyton Toups

Contest judge Rachel Zolf writes: Toups’s subtle, gentle poems resemble “something / surreal and dripping” as they use delicate shifts in language and orthography to “penetrate the scrolling / men.” Witnessing Toups in this careful work, I “felt giddy for the first time / in awhile.”

Honorable Mention: Jessica Bao, Husnaa Hashim, Quinn Gruber

About the judge: Rachel Zolf has published five books of poetry, a selected poetry entitled Social Poesis, and a theoretical text, No One’s Witness: A Monstrous Poetics. Films Zolf has written and/or directed have shown internationally at venues such as White Cube Bermondsey, the Wexner Center for the Arts, and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. They have received a Pew Fellowship in the Arts and a Trillium Book Award for Poetry, among other honors. Zolf holds an MFA in Creative Writing and a PhD in Philosophy, Art and Social Thought and is an Artist in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania.


The Phi Kappa Sigma Fiction Prize
Awarded to the best original short story by an undergraduate student

Winner: Sofia Sears, “Roadkill”

Contest judge Weike Wang writes: A thrilling, heart-wrenching, heart-pounding story about two missing girls, told in first person plural, which is, at the best of times, one of the hardest perspectives to sustain yet is done so beautifully here. Sears is exceptional at her craft, but is also a master of tension, structure, style, and is just plain a joy to read. 

Second Place: Emma Blum, “The Beach House”

Contest judge Weike Wang writes: In subtle and nuanced prose, Blum tells the story of adolescent longing, yearning, and the undercurrent of love and loneliness that must exist to keep a family together.  Each sentence in this piece is placed with intent and care, insight and authority. A completed work that shows tremendous polish and achieves exactly what it sets out to do. 

Third Place: Andrew Basile, “CORRECTION”

Contest judge Weike Wang writes: A story that hooked me by the first line and surprised me at every turn.  A narrative about loss, friendship, the hopes and fears that continue to feed us, and written in such memorable detail, down to a baseball that’s thrown up into the air by one hand, then caught by the other.  Deft.

Honorable Mention:  Yueling Xu, “Wonderland”

Contest judge Weike Wang writes: A prose poem told with urgency, skill and force. If a story could be a painting, this story would be that. Incisive and playful, with many moments of tender brilliance.  

About the judge: Weike Wang is the author of CHEMISTRY (Knopf 2017) and JOAN IS OKAY (Random House 2022). She is the recipient of the 2018 Pen Hemingway, a Whiting award and a National Book Foundation 5 under 35.  Her work has appeared in Ploughshares and The New Yorker, among other publications. She is in the 2019 Best American Short Stories and O. Henry Prizes. She earned her MFA from Boston University and her other degrees (a bachelors in chemistry and a doctorate in epidemiology) from Harvard. She currently lives in New York City and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.


The Judy Lee Award for Dramatic Writing
Awarded to a graduate or undergraduate student for the best script (stage, screen, television, or radio)

Winner: Sarah Potts, Arcadia

Contest judge Brooke O'Harra writes: Pott's screenplay in its length and cliffhager ending reads as the pilot episode for an hour-length serial drama. This science fiction cop drama unfolds as we follow two overlapping investigations and the introduction of a new chief on the force. The scenes work like puzzle pieces to introduce an array of interesting characters, and the episode does a nice job of establishing complex characters whose motivations are unpredictable; this world is unstable, and we have yet to learn about its mysterious underlying circumstances. Potts unravels this world like a mystery, full of drama and fun buddy scenes. If this were a show, I would watch it. 

Honorable Mention: Rachel Swym and Jamie Cahill, LYRE, A Semi-Satirical, Fictional “True Crime” Podcast

Contest judge Brooke O'Harra writes: The greatest strength of Rachel Swym and Jamie Cahill’s podcast is its dialogue. They clearly enjoy harpooning college life, like when their intrepid investigative reporter Adrienne Sharpe gets brushed aside, ignored and misunderstood as she tries to interview the coed population about a possible campus serial killer. It seems it is exactly this self-absorbed indifference that is the root cause of the mysterious disappearances. The first episode sets up a playful and even scathing commentary on life on a campus menaced by an otherworldly presence.  

About the judge: Brooke O'Harra is an artist, theater director and writer. She is currently developing a large-scale performance co-created with composer Tyshawn Sorey, poet Ross Gay and the band Yarn/Wire titled Be Holding. Brooke is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Penn, where she teaches experimental playwriting, performance, and theater.   


The Lilian and Benjamin Levy Award
Awarded to the best review by an undergraduate student of a current play, film, music release, book, or performance

Winner: Matt Shadbolt, “In Praise of EastEnders

Contest judge Anthony DeCurtis writes: In “In Praise of EastEnders,” Matt Shadbolt takes a loving look at the soap opera that is one of the longest running dramas on British television. His writing is spirited, incisive and sweet, perfectly expressive of how a favorite show can instruct our hearts as well as our minds, can offer life lessons as well as a welcome break from the pressures of everyday. EastEnders has run for thirty-seven years, and this rich discussion of it demonstrates why it's unlikely to end anytime soon. 

Second Place: Gabriella Raffetto, “Behind the Backlash of Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero’ Music Video”

Contest judge Anthony DeCurtis writes: Lil Nas X has been one of the most surprising music phenomena of recent years. However, the course of pop culture megastardom never did run smooth, and being black, gay and country set him up for inevitable pushback. In this smart, nicely written piece, Gabriella Raffetto works through how he preempted that backlash by simultaneously provoking it and then handling it with wit, defiance and conviction, priming his devoted followers to look forward to the next round.  

Third Place: Beatrice Karp, “‘Simple’ Cinematography: A Dramatic 12 Angry Men”

Contest judge Anthony DeCurtis writes: In this insightful piece, Beatrice Karp demonstrates how what we see affects what we feel. She does that through a careful analysis of how cinematography shapes our viewing of Sidney Lumet's 1957 classic film 12 Angry Men, but her deft references of Robert Ryman's milestone white-on-white painting. It's not a comparison that would occur to anyone but Ms. Karp, but she makes it work, boldly illuminating works of great importance in very different artistic fields. 

About the judge: Anthony DeCurtis has taught in the creative writing program at Penn for twenty years and has long been a contributing editor for Rolling Stone. Among other books, he is the author of Lou Reed: A Life and coauthor of Clive Davis's autobiography, The Soundtrack of My Life, a New York Times bestseller. He is a member of the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, a Grammy Award winner and a PhD in American literature. 

The Gibson Peacock Prize for Creative Nonfiction
Awarded to the best creative nonfiction piece by an undergraduate student

Winner: Sofia Sears, “The Night Of

Contest judge Ahmad Almallah writes: “Was there anything so real as aftermath?” This is a brave tightly woven piece about trauma and the difficult task of writing about it. The aftermath of trauma occupies the mind so completely that “no amount of writing will ever bring […]cruelty to a resolution.” And yet, the author succeeds in weaving the anxiety of survival with the anxiety of writing to produce a powerfully resonant essay. 

Second Place: Gemma Hong, Taemong

Contest judge Ahmad Almallah writes: This is a beautiful piece that captures the unsaid that holds some of our strongest relationships together: relationship to family members, languages, and cultures of origin. The essay explores the significance of symbols and dreams in our lives, as some of the most resonant elements of who we are. Alas, they are only decipherable in retrospect. 

Third Place: May Hathaway, Mother Tongue”

Contest judge Ahmad Almallah writes: This highly poetic essay delves into the unfolding relationship with mother and mother tongue. It brilliantly captures the “here” and “there” of the immigrant experience. The triumph of this essay is the space it discovers, a space in which the here and there meet halfway in between. 

About the judge: Ahmad Almallah  is a poet from Palestine. His first book Bitter English is now available in the
Phoenix Poets Series from the University of Chicago Press. He received the Edith Goldberg Paulson Memorial Prize for Creative Writing, and his set of poems “Recourse,” won the Blanche Colton Williams Fellowship. Some of his poems and other writing appeared in Jacket2, Track//Four, All Roads will lead You Home, Apiary, Supplement, SAND, Michigan Quarterly Review, Making Mirrors: Righting/Writing by Refugees, Cordite Poetry Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Great River Review, Kenyon Review and Poetry. He holds a PhD in Arabic Literature from IUB and an MFA in poetry from Hunter College. He is currentlyan Artist in Residence in Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania.


The Parker Prize for Journalistic Writing
Awarded to the best newspaper or magazine article, feature story, exposé or other piece of investigative journalism by an undergraduate student 

Winner: Alan Jinich, “‘You never get that smell off your clothes.’”

Contest judge Lise Funderburg writes: Combining approaches of multimedia, documentary, translation, and oral history, Jinich offers up one segment of a larger project that he and collaborator Max Strickberger have called “Generation Pandemic.” Aiming to capture the pandemic experience of young adults around the U.S., here Jinich infuses his reportage and story structure with sensitivity and respect, powered by a mission to give voice to his subjects. Here, he profiles Jesus and Toño, two cattle sorters in El Paso, Texas, whose role in the food supply chain have made them essential workers, leaving them both thankful to be employed and beyond exhausted. Zinich enlists video, photography, and oral histories so deftly that the reader feels an immediate connection to the subjects, with only the lightest contextualizing interventions and, perhaps most important, without an objectifying overlay of judgment.

Second Place: Pamela De La Cruz, “Sheltering Hope at a Violent Border for Migrants”

Contest judge Lise Funderburg writes: For this ambitious feature story on migration, De La Cruz took an immersive approach, reporting from a shelter in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. De La Cruz paints vivid scenes of the situation undocumented people face there, from violence to confusion, from stress to stash houses, and she incorporates interviews with migrants from several countries, border patrol agents, and shelter administrators.  De La Cruz also supports her on-the-scene reporting with research, resulting in a well-rounded and deep exploration of a complex and ever-evolving crisis.

Third Place: Sophia DeGrands, “Higher Thinking”

Contest judge Lise Funderburg writes: In this well-reported opinion piece, DeGrands argues evenhandedly for more accurate assessment of driving impairment from cannabis intoxication. DeGrands turns to medical, legal, and social considerations as she characterizes the repercussions of insufficient evaluation methods, which include unequal enforcement and wrongful conviction. True to the op-ed form, DeGrands offers up much for the reader to consider — not only a depiction of the problem, but also a series of solutions.

About the judge: Lise Funderburg teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Pennsylvania. She the author of the bestselling memoir Pig Candy: Taking My Father South, Taking My Father Home, a contemplation of life, death, race, and barbecue. She also authored the groundbreaking oral history Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity, and her latest book is Apple, Tree: Writers on Their Parents, a collection of 25 original essays she commissioned and edited. Funderburg's essays have appeared in such publications as The New York Times, Chattahoochee Review, Cleaver, Broad Street, National Geographic, TIME, Threepenny Review, Harper's, and Brevity, among others.


Past Contest Winners

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