Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Yesterday afternoon in the Scheuer Room, novelist Diane Ayres read a portion from her novel “Other Girls” and announced the winners of the William Plumer Potter Fiction competition. First place winner was Krystyn McIlraith’s ’09 “Shoeboxes,” second, Elizabeth Crampton’s ’09 “Dirt,” and third, Joseph Baldwin’s ’08 “The Mud and the Blue.”
Ayres was introduced by visiting instructor Gregory Frost with a reference to her own work teaching young writers, “her joy in writing inspired [her students’] joy.” After reading a portion of “Other Girls,” a novel about intrigue and a love “quadrangle”at a women’s college during the seventies and the rise of feminism, Ayres commented on the importance of awards like the William Plumer Potter Fiction prize in encouraging writers.
Of the selection of stories entered in the competition, Ayres based her selection on those which left the greatest impression on her mind, causing her to recall them after reading them, “What more can a story do then make a person who reads a story want to tell it and retell it? [These stories] stayed with me.”
Baldwin’s “The Mud and the Blue”involved elements as diverse as space travel, zombie whales, and Al Queda. Ayres observed that despite these “outrageous” aspects, “the narrative was so confident that I would follow it anywhere.” Of Crampton’s “Dirt,”a haunting tale of grief and loss, Ayres admitted, “It made my cry.” McIlraith’s “Shoeboxes” won first for its powerful examination of “orderly life turned chaotic that activated all of the senses” in its exploration of a character’s experience working in post-Katrina New Orleans while struggling to piece together the realities of her own identity.
Regarding her story, McIlraith stated, “This is the most personal story that I have ever writtenÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ a lot more emotional effort went into this story.” For each of the writers, the award was an encouraging opportunity to receive feedback. “The best experience of the whole thing was hearing another writer’s response to my work,” said Baldwin. Similarly, Crampton noted, “That my story moved someone is great. Writing is just words on a page, to make that something more than just text is wonderful.”