Poem by Alexa Norris Selected as National Literary Competition Winner
Association of Writing Programs awards piece by College of Wooster junior
WOOSTER, Ohio — A poem by Alexa Norris, a junior English major at The College of Wooster and a resident of Westlake, Ohio, has been selected as a winner in the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) Intro Journals literary competition.
The award-winning piece, titled “For Ernesta Peebles, The Organist Who Fell in the Septic Tank,” was one of eight poems chosen from a pool of submissions nominated by graduate and undergraduate programs from across the country. The AWP also awards prizes in the categories of fiction and creative non-fiction.
The poem was inspired by a true story that Norris once heard about an elderly woman who fell in a septic tank and was stuck there for several hours. Despite the humorous-sounding title, the poem was not intended to be funny, but rather to explore such a situation through image. “My interest in the poem may have started with the image of her hanging in the septic tank, but everything really came together when I began to construct the poem around her role as an organist,” says Norris. “When I write, I like to assemble a number of seemingly different images that all connect with each other.”
Daniel Bourne, professor of English at Wooster, and Katharine Beutner, visiting assistant professor of English, nominated the poem as one of three selected by The College of Wooster this year. Originally, Norris thought the poem was unworthy of the acclaim. A long-time creative writer, she says that she didn’t take poetry seriously in high school, but when she came to Wooster, she received serious validation for her work. “(Prof. Bourne) and I clicked,” she says of her mentor. “Now I am producing work I am proud of.”
“In a lot of ways, Alexa’s accomplishment is similar to going to the Final Four,” says Bourne. “It is not just students from undergraduate institutions being nominated for these awards, but also from the top graduate MFA and Ph.D. programs in the country, such as the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Columbia, or Houston, or Indiana. And other student writers here are writing similarly interesting work.
“It was hard for us to decide whom to nominate,” adds Bourne, “Alexa’s poem attracted us, not just because of its unusual subject matter, but because of Alexa’s way of depicting the stoicism of this woman holding herself up in the opened hole while waiting for rescue.”
Having her poem chosen as one of the winning entries has given Norris a different perspective on her future, and has encouraged her to consider new career paths, which might include writing or library science. For the near future, Norris says she would like to incorporate poetry into her Independent Study project (Wooster’s nationally acclaimed senior capstone experience). “I spend a lot of time sort of ‘collecting’ things I want to write about,” she says. “I tend to carry them around with me for quite a while before actually sitting down to write about them. But then it is so satisfying. Even if the poem is not about me personally, it is still very cathartic.”
The Intro Journals Project is a literary competition for the discovery and publication of new works by students currently enrolled in the Association of Writing Programs. Both graduate and undergraduate students are eligible, but must be nominated by their host institutions. Winners receive a $100 cash prize, but the real payoff is the publication of these new poets and fiction and creative non-fiction writers in journals that usually only publish already established writers. This year’s participating journals include Hayden's Ferry Review (Arizona State University), Mid-American Review (Bowling Green State University), Colorado Review (Colorado State University), Puerto del Sol (New Mexico State University), Quarterly West (University of Utah), Tampa Review (University of Tampa), and The College of Wooster’s own Artful Dodge, where Norris’s poem is scheduled to be published.