Student writers to be honored for their work, award-winning author to read during annual ceremony at Tusculum

GREENEVILLE – Celebrate great writing created by Tusculum University students during an annual awards ceremony that will also feature an accomplished author and professor reading from her works.

Dr. Monic Ductan

Dr. Monic Ductan

Tusculum’s English and Languages Department and College of Civic and Liberal Arts will honor student writers at the Curtis ’28 and Billie Owens Literary Prize event Thursday, April 11, at 7 p.m. The event will take place in the Brotherton Boardroom on the third floor of the Meen Center. The public is welcome.

Students of any academic major were invited to submit entries in the drama, fiction, nonfiction and poetry genres. Dr. Monic Ductan, an award-winning writer and author of the recently published short story collection “Daughters of Muscadine,” is serving as this year’s contest judge. During the ceremony, she will announce the winners following a reading of some of her writings and participate in a question-and-answer session.

Award winners will receive $250.

“This event appropriately recognizes our emerging student writers, who work extensively on developing their craft,” said Kelsey Trom, associate professor of English. “Their professors have mentored them, worked one-on-one with them and then given them the freedom to showcase their skills and ideas in their own way. We have always been impressed with their considerable talent and willingness to grow as writers, and this contest will demonstrate the quality of their work and reinforce that they are on the path to becoming career-ready professionals.”

Among the previous winners of the awards are Justin Phillip Reed, a 2013 graduate and winner of the 2018 National Book Award for poetry, and Anup Kaphle, a 2007 graduate, who is executive editor of Rest of World, an international nonprofit journalism organization, and held leadership posts at BuzzFeed and the Washington Post. Another is Eliza Boles, a 2007 graduate, who is now a law professor at the University of Tennessee.

Winners in the Curtis ’28 and Billie Owens Literary Prize competition in 2023 included, left to right, Kiersten Paxton, Cole Robertsen and Abi Painter (now Campbell).

Winners in the Curtis ’28 and Billie Owens Literary Prize competition in 2023 included, left to right, Kiersten Paxton, Cole Robertsen and Abi Painter (now Campbell).

A year ago, Abi Campbell won the fiction prize in 2023 before graduating from Tusculum. She said her success had a profound effect.

“Winning this contest made me so proud of my work, in each category,” she said. “It encourages me to seek out other avenues of publishing and pushes me to continue writing. It’s my goal to write a book one day, and since winning that award, I feel like there are at least a few people out there who would read my work. It was truly the confidence boost I needed.”

Some of the student writers who have submitted for the Owens Prize have also served on the staff of “The Tusculum Review,” the university’s literary journal, and “Sit Lux,” an entirely student-run journal.

Dr. Ductan, who is from southern Appalachia, is an associate professor of English at Tennessee Tech University. She has developed a considerable portfolio of anthologized works, short fiction in journals, creative nonfiction and poetry. Her writing has appeared in “Oxford American,” “Shenandoah,” “South Carolina Review,” “Appalachian Review” and several other journals. “Daughters of Muscadine” is a book about working-class Black women in a small, Georgia town.

She has won multiple awards, including the Weatherford Award for fiction in 2023 and the Denny C. Plattner Award in Creative Nonfiction in 2019.

“I’m reading Dr. Ductan’s work with students right now, and it’s among the most resonant I’ve read this year,” Trom said. “Our 20-something students agree. She writes beautifully about fictional Muscadine, Georgia, and the Black people living rural, small town and island lives there. She writes about the challenges of motherhood, sisterhood, childhood, dating – all the human things. Dr. Monic Ductan is an important writer to read right now. You’ll be seeing her name in literary lights.”

Curtis Owens was a prize-winning writer and professor, who held a variety of administrative assignments at Pace University. He was a 1928 graduate of Tusculum, where he played football, debated, won an award for philosophy and two awards for poetry as well as wrote the class poem for the 1928 annual. He and his wife, Billie, established the prize in their name at Tusculum in 1995 to highlight creativity and talent among aspiring student writers.

“We are extraordinarily proud of our students and the creative writing program at Tusculum,” said Wayne Thomas, dean of the College of Civic and Liberal Arts and an associate professor of English. “Our students have excelled in an active and experiential learning environment where they have become better writers through abundant opportunities to write in a variety of formats. They have then impressed their professors and readers with the works they have produced after graduation.”

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Tusculum student Zach Mitchell, who is majoring in English, with a concentration in creative writing, contributed to this news release.