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February 17, 2012

Reading showcases award-winning undergrads

The 2012 Annan Award winners—Rachel Miller, Amy Chung-Yu Chou, and Johannah King-Slutzky—had a reading of their work on Wednesday at Rosenwald Hall.

The Margaret C. Annan Award is given annually to upper-class creative writing students in the College in three categories: nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. This year, the three students to whom it was awarded presented pieces with strong voices and evocative content covering a range of topics as diverse as their backgrounds.

Amy Chung-Yu Chou, a fourth-year, read aloud from her nonfiction piece chronicling her struggle with brain cancer when she was nineteen years old. She took medical leave from school and, in the excerpt she read, shares the relief and support she felt when she joined a choir. Now, at the not-much-older age of 21, her experience has given her a story which she colors with humor and maturity. Chou has a soft voice and unprepossessing presence behind the microphone, but her story’s unpretentious honesty and genuine hardship kept the room rapt.

The winner of the fiction prize, fourth-year Rachel Miller, won the award with the very first fiction piece she had ever written. The excerpt she read aloud was interestingly structured, beginning at first with a collective “we” perspective that changes into an “I.” The story is not explicitly about the narrator or narrators but about the two best friends whom the narrators observe. Miller’s writing efficiently paints the realistic and sometimes ugly emotions and conflicts of the elementary school students and, later, high school students who watch the two best friends drift apart.

Johannah King-Slutzky’s poetry was somewhat abstract and not easy to understand, but the rhythm of her words and her unique imagery alone would have made the reading worth listening to. Her first poem was about the relationship between a movie and its audience, expounding on the faith necessary to make movie-watching an enjoyable experience and the importance of what we choose to believe in. Another poem was titled “Why I Should Not Eat In Public” and had memorable allusions to Shakespeare and Mad Libs. Underneath her poetry ran an undercurrent that turned the seemingly light-hearted topics into serious meditations. King-Slutzky said that she does not like the concept of a writing process and writes the best when she “does not think of [herself] as a writer,” adding that she would like to be as unpretentious as possible but that by the mere act of saying so she has made herself sound pretentious.

Miller said that this was the second reading she had done, having participated previously in one at Blackstone Library as part of her Advanced Fiction class. As for winning, Miller says that she was “really surprised because it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to apply.” Although the fiction piece she read was the first piece she had ever written, she has written extensively outside of the fiction genre throughout her life. She mentioned that it was very encouraging for new writers to win this award.

Chou said that she has been writing nonfiction since she was sixteen and also stated that winning the Annan Award had also been very encouraging for her. “After I came back from my medical leave...winning the award was a validation that I could do something and someone cared,” she said, her words accompanied by a smile that illuminated the significance of the Annan Award in giving emerging writers a confidence boost on their literary paths.

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