Winners Announced for 2024 McKinney Writing Contest at RPI

May 9, 2024

McKinney contest winners

In a ceremony that featured a reading by Pulitzer Prize winner and former U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, winners for the 83rd annual McKinney Writing Contest at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were announced on April 19. 

Smith is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Such Color: New and Selected Poems, and two books of nonfiction, To Free the Captives: A Plea for the American Soul and Ordinary Light, which was a finalist for the National Book Award. She is also an editor, translator, opera librettist, professor of English and African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and Susan S. and Kenneth L. Wallach Professor at Harvard Radcliffe Institute.

“It was our good fortune to celebrate National Poetry Month with the esteemed Tracy K. Smith, whose visit was especially meaningful as part of Rensselaer’s Bicentennial celebration,” said Skye Anicca, a lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at Rensselaer and the chair of the McKinney Award Committee. “While her poetry reading offered an unflinching look at the tragedy of the American institution of slavery, her subsequent talk encouraged listeners to imagine a better future together.” 

The McKinney Contest recognizes writers in the Rensselaer student community. An average of 230 students each year compete for awards totaling more than $4,000. Prizes are awarded in both undergraduate and graduate divisions in four categories: Poetry, Creative Prose and Drama, Academic Essay, and Electronic Mixed Media Using Language. 

First place in the Undergraduate Poetry category went to environmental engineering student Nyah Philip. Nathan Smith, a doctoral student in biochemistry and biophysics, took the top prize in the Graduate Poetry category.

In the Creative Prose and Drama category, biomedical engineering student Phoebe Demers won first place in the Undergraduate division, while critical game design doctoral student Matthew Hlady won first place in the Graduate division.

Mattaya Gibbs, in communication, media, and design, took the top prize in the Undergraduate Academic Essay category, while electronic arts student Hans Tursack won the Graduate category.

Games and simulation arts and sciences student Gwen Moyer was awarded first place in the Electronic Mixed Media Using Language category for Undergraduates, while Jason Choi, a Ph.D. student in electronic arts, received the Graduate prize.

Language and Empowerment, a special category to reflect the Department of Communication and Media’s emphasis on language as a primary vehicle for the work of democracy, social justice, and equity, sought to highlight emerging writers working creatively, perhaps in more than one language, with words they deem urgent and essential to the discourse of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This year’s winner was communications and media major Ahnalese Pearson.

“The McKinney Committee is proud and delighted to acknowledge the talents and superb communication skills of students working across disciplines and genres at Rensselaer,” said Annica.

For a full list of award winners in all categories, visit this link.

The McKinney Writing Contest began in 1941 when Dr. Samuel P. McKinney, Class of 1884, established an endowment as a memorial to his late wife, Mary A. Earl McKinney. It is administered by the Department of Communication and Media in the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, and is supported by the Vollmer W. Fries Lecture Series, the Rensselaer Union, Friends of Folsom Library, and The New York State Writers Institute.

Written By Christian TeBordo
Back to top