Writing competition for students enters seventh year

EvyJo Compton


Submissions for the Diana McDonald Writing Challenge, a challenge that started seven years ago as a way to encourage enthusiasm for writing, are open now.

The deadline for submissions is May 10. Both a hard copy, and an electronic copy are required.

“Students need to submit their essays in two different formats, by 5 p.m., Thursday, May 10,” said Seth Mendelowitz, an English professor at Parkland. “They should submit a hard copy with a completed application form to the Department of Fine and Applied Arts and Humanities [in] C120, and they should submit an electronic copy to DMWC@parkland.edu.”

The writing challenge was created by a retired English professor at Parkland to foster students’ interests in writing.

“About seven years ago, Fall 2011 being the first time awarding it, a retired Parkland English faculty member, Diana McDonald, wanted to begin this in order to encourage excellence in writing and enthusiasm for writing,” said Mendelowitz. “A few different English faculty have served as coordinator over the years. I have been doing so for about the past two years.”

For the electronic copy, submitting writers are to have no identifying information on the piece to provide total anonymity.

“For this electronic copy, students should remove all identifying information, such as their name and their instructor’s name,” said Mendelowitz. “The idea is to have the panel of readers read these without knowing whose essays they are reading.”

The chosen winner receives an award of $500. The winning essays are also published on SPARK. The winner is chosen towards the end of May.

“We will award a winner. On occasion, Diana has chosen to award more than one,” said Mendelowitz.

At first, only students in English courses could submit essays, but now students in a variety of courses can submit their work.

“Originally, we accepted essays from students in English courses only, but we, have expanded it—so now, any student who has been enrolled in a Humanities Department course, [which include] English composition, literature, philosophy, a language, religion, LAS, can submit,” said Mendelowitz. “They can use an essay that they have written for their course or they can submit an outside original essay that they have written.”

The standards for this challenge are high, and students should aim to bring a larger topic to the table with their essay.

“Diana wishes to maintain high standards for this award,” said Mendelowitz. “So in addition to clear organization, precise wording, correct grammar and punctuation, we seek unique perspective, as opposed to superficial or predictable arguments, ideally an essay that connects the writer’s experiences, insights, and observations to larger ongoing conversations about the world—about politics, philosophy, science, media, justice, family, race, happiness, the environment, or some other important component of our culture and/or world.”

In the age of technology, there is a concern that the younger generations are not developing writing and reading skills, something this challenge is also attempting to address.

“Although I try to avoid being like Chicken Little, who imagines that ‘The sky is falling!’, there is considerable and valid concern that in this age of cellphones and social media that too many young people are not developing strong habits of and skills in reading and writing,” said Mendelowitz. “But whenever Diana meets a winner of her writing award, it revives in her an excitement about the potential for her contest to promote students’ interest in ideas, in personal and intellectual exploration, and in strong and creative expression of those ideas and explorations.”

If interested in the writing challenge, students should email DMWC@parkland.edu for the form or with any questions.