Announcing the Winners of the Fall 2023 HWC Writing Contest
Every fall semester, the Howe Writing Center holds a writing contest. This year, the contest theme was “Environmental Justice: Stories Drawn from Art,” which asked students to write flash fiction inspired by the current student art exhibit at the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum. We are excited to share the winners for this year’s writing contest!
Announcing the Winners of the Fall 2023 HWC Writing Contest
Every fall semester, the Howe Writing Center holds a writing contest. This year, the contest theme was “Environmental Justice: Stories Drawn from Art,” which asked students to write a flash fiction story inspired by the current student art exhibit, "It's Our World," at the Richard and Carole Cocks Art Museum.
The theme of this fall's contest was selected to align with this year's Miami FOCUS theme of Environmental Justice. Participants were not only tasked with selecting a single piece of artwork from the exhibit to inspire their work, but also to reflect on their process of engaging with the artwork through a writer's note.
Winners of the HWC’s fall writing contests are chosen by Howe Writing Center consultants and staff. This year's winners come from a wide range of majors, including two from the Farmer School of Business.
Here are this year's winners!
- 1st Place: “An Ode to the Oak” by Rhese Voisard
- 2nd Place: “Atlases” by Olive Abram
- 3rd Place: “Flying Elephant” by Olivia Voekler
- Staff Pick: “Hitchhiker” by Lorna Wodzak
Congratulations to all prize recipients! Be sure to read their work below.
An Ode to the Oak
by Rhese VoisardInspired by Backyard by Claire Farrow
Oak Tree was just a sapling when traces of humanity began to creep into her home.
For years, the forest lived and breathed in symphonic rhythms.
Water flowed through the creek as an ode to movement between the slick rocks. Mysterious and chilled, the wind strummed the delicate blades of wild grass beneath the hum of scurrying insects.
The forest never asked for attention. To flourish was to simply survive.
It wasn’t until people started to watch that the whole thing began to feel like a performance.
One winter morning, a pair of hunters walked past the creek, muskets tucked beneath their elbows. Oak Tree didn’t realize what they were doing until she heard a roll of bullets skitter across the sky.
They began to build houses, towering structures made from Oak’s brothers and sisters long fallen, nailed together in pursuit of something greater.
At night, smoke billowed from the chimneys, encompassing Oak’s branches. She choked down the soot despite the ashes, clinging to the sight of stars dotting the night sky.
This can’t be how my life is meant to be, she thought.
But as the years dragged on, her forest became a faded sketch of the lively place it had once been.
The formerly crystal creek bubbled brown into the murky overflow, blurring the lines between then and now.
Even after rainfall, Oak still felt the suffocating air clinging to her branches. A plague she could never completely rid herself of.
One day in early summer, a pair of giggling children rolled into the forest, their clothes stained with patches of grass. Oak watched them splash their grubby hands in the creek and turn cartwheels in the dirt.
One of them wore a billowing pink skirt, the hem caked with mud and hues of the Earth. Oak Tree thought it was the most beautiful garment she had ever seen in all of her life.
The children collected stones and lined them up at the base of her trunk, giving the bark a gentle pat from time to time. Oak watched them play in silence, the rings of her years piling up as their laughter echoed across the forest.
It wasn’t until the following morning that Oak noticed two men circling her trunk, snapping off the occasional branch and tapping her bark. They were not like the joyful children but rather stiff, their mouths set in firm lines.
Oak Tree wished they’d go back to where they came from.
Soon, a pack of five men came marching over to Oak, this time with shimmering blades gripped between their white knuckles.
Oak Tree didn’t bother fighting as the sharp blows pierced her sides. A lone sapling watched the massacre, branches quivering in the breeze. Oak wanted to reassure the young thing but wasn’t sure how as her body leaned forward in blind submission to gravity.
Her tired branches tumbled into the chilly creek below, years of soot seeping from her soul.
In her final moments, Oak Tree finally felt clean.
Rhese Voisard is a second-year student majoring in Creative Writing and Entrepreneurship. Her work has previously been published in The Luna Collective, Soft Quarterly, and Germ Magazine. She is the current Copy Editor of UP Magazine and is also the Content Coordinator for Route 66 Neighbors Magazine. Rhese's biggest dream is to become a published author and own her own bakery.
by Olive Abram
Inspired by Fallen by Sabrina Barilone
At the scorching, starved, and shameful end, the ecologists drank with the artists. The PhDs and the huggers of trees harvested what was left of the grapes, made foul wine, and staged humanity’s final labor strike.
“Decades,” they mused and slurred into their plastic cups, “we’ve been holding this planet up for decades. You’d think we’d have unionized by now.”
The delirious gathering stumbled out to the parking lot. They dropped down next to their electric cars, bought long ago when everyone could still hope, and scraped their hands raw against the concrete, searching for any specks of dirt, of Earth. One of them, a paleoclimatologist who tried to escape by spending her career in Greenland staring into the ice; she found a Juul cartridge. Another, a German poet who had superglued his hands to so many streets in protest he could barely feel the pavement; he cried upon the discovery of a fountain soda lid, straw skewered through like a knife.
Not even the weeds wanted to grow here anymore, they concluded.
The ecologists and the artists watched the Humans reach their individual breaking points. For someone, it was when he flew out to the Colorado mountains, and still couldn’t see any stars. For another, it was when the food rations started and she realized her daughter would starve
before the soil regenerated itself. They all looked up at a blank, gray, Godless sky with tears in their red-rimmed eyes, and resolved to treat the planet better.
“You’re too late,” the artists said.
“We told you, we told you,” the ecologists mumbled.
When her daughter did, in fact, starve, the mother spat angrily at the drunkards and blamed them for the hungry, dying masses. Surely, they could’ve held the world up for a few more years. Surely they could’ve done more. Repent.
“No longer any point in staring directly into the barrel of the gun, waiting for it go off,” an energy professor responded, “I’ll turn my back to it; I’ll stare at my husband instead.”
And at the scorching, starved, and shameful end, the ecologists held hands with the artists, while the watery-eyed and pale humans held out shaking hands to catch any piece of what the planet would leave behind.
Olive is a sophomore Sustainability and Political Science student, with minors in Creative Writing and Italian. She represents District 7 in Miami's Student Senate and is passionate about sustainable agriculture, feminist theory, and civic engagement.
by Olivia Voekler
Inspired by Balloon Animals by David Shuppert
I’ve always wondered how it may feel to fly. As my heavy feet stomped on the ground each day, birds would flutter overhead, peacefully oblivious to any problems we may have down here. Their weightless bodies soaring through a (sometimes) clear sky to a new destination, away from wherever you all had chosen to carry out your latest scheme. The last thing you all did was build over the long, grassy field where I was born. Where there was once tall grass to wade through, there is now concrete and glowing blue lights. That’s fine I guess. We only exist for your enjoyment after all; it’s not as if animals are capable of feeling anything.
A loud bang startled the herd. Everyone started their sprint away, but despite the extreme effort I forced into my stubby legs, I was not running; I was floating. I never thought that flying would feel like that, almost as if I was being pulled away from the ground, up, up, and away from my mom, my friends, my field, into the sparse, fluffy clouds. Mom was staring at someone laying on the ground. Hey, that looks like me! I thought. Three more loud bangs punctured the open air. Mom began to float too. She said she was sorry. I didn’t know what for until we finally settled onto a cloud. Mom told me that we would not be rejoining the herd, that I would have to watch my friends dance and run and play from afar.
One of you savagely sliced Mom’s tusks from her leathery gray face first. Our tusks are our pride, our character, what makes us so special. How could someone slice them off with such hatred? I yelled, but I couldn't hear myself make any noise. It’s possible that I didn’t make a sound. You took my tusks next. You lugged our prized parts of ourselves into your loud machine and disappeared into the distance, off you went to wreak more destruction on other elephants or maybe different animals, or maybe the water? The land? The air? Is it never enough for you? Did my life mean nothing at all?
One of the 100 elephants you kill every day
Olivia is a sophomore from Columbus, Ohio. She is majoring in Creative Writing and Professional Writing with a Political Science minor. Currently a poetry and prose editor for the Femellectual, she dreams of one day being an editor at a publishing company. When she saw the artwork "Balloon Animals," Olivia wondered what animals would tell us if they could communicate with humans, which is what led to the creation of this piece.
by Lorna WodzakInspired by Hitchhiker by Reilly Powers
Through temper and tempered glass, you’d look at me, a disciple of your destination. White-knuckled, teeth-gritted road-hitting machine. A scene blurred in passing, facets flawed in memory. Eyes anchored on the gash in me that used to stretch out ahead of you. A pseudo-suture in yellow thread, stitching nothing but veins of traffic.
I played the role of rampant haven countryside for rolling, revving free-agent trains. Whistling winds through timber willows for radio-blaring, expletive-sharing Ford Honda Subarus. Ersatz riptides, clad in boots, tearing up my shores. I’d house breakdowns, flashing blue and red star shine of soil and sound pollution. What noble steed, a rusty metal bin, can-crushed on the side of the road.
The second greatest of all ironies was you, hitchhiker, maybe motivated by some clean green (e)mission (o)mission. Chaw the ground, toss the signage. It was 30 miles to Reno and 30 years to biospheric renovation. You forget, only I can turn the wrist-hands at the root of your thumb.
Immortal am I, see how long I sprawl out in all directions. Imagine my time on earth in this way, stretching out as far as your mind could qualify and further still. Would you then discard your sour nothings to me? Deem me the side of the road?
I saw your dust envelope nine souls before turning to you. I’ve seen billboards rise and fall like empires, fickle and flashy, gone in the ring of a tree. I saw your steed’s flesh exhumed from the mines of my body, factories built on my surface, world-altering revolution, you expedite a flash-bang extinction with the slicing of ribbons. Oiling a reckoning track with the grease of your elbows, burning old bird bodies with the metal of a pedal.
I digress, dear hitchhiker, in a language you can’t understand. Pity is a nature we share: I’ve as much for you as you’ve for me. You can believe that the clouds still print out in grayscale, and the trees view the wind like drive-thru patrons, and the grasses are carts lined up for check-out, and the dirt lays still like your asphalt gash in me. These beliefs, rites of comfort.
In returning to a godly state, I recollect a snake eating its tail. The purge of affliction, a pendulum centered. Your side of the road centers around an absent point of reference. You had all but remembered. I am not an accessory to you.
Lorna Wodzak (she/her) is a second-year Business Economics and Business Analytics double major from Cleveland, OH. Having previously been published in Volume 26 of Inklings Art & Letters, she is thrilled to be featured in the Howe Writing Center's Fall Contest. Outside of writing poetry, she has had the privilege of writing two one-act plays for Stage Left, a student theatre group on campus. A shift from her usual writing fare of knock-off Monopoly monetary policy and desert island games in space, she enjoyed taking the perspective of nature in "Hitchhiker" and drawing a voice from the powerful art piece by Reilly Powers.