Winners Announced for 2023 McKinney Writing Contest

April 21, 2023


In a ceremony that featured a reading by the award-winning author Gish Jen, winners for the 82nd annual McKinney Writing Contest at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute were announced on April 12.

Jen is the author, most recently, of the story collection Thank You, Mr. Nixon, as well as five novels, a previous book of short stories, and two works of nonfiction. Her honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and the Fulbright Foundation, as well as the Lannan Literary Award for Fiction and the Mildred and Harold Strauss Living Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

"Gish Jen has a warm, engaged presence and the students really appreciated the sustained interactions they had with her during a mixer before the award announcements and reading portion of the evening," said Tamar Gordon, associate professor and acting department head of Communication and Media.

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 biomedical engineering student Phoebe Demers for “Birthright.” Nathan Smith, a doctoral student in biochemistry and biophysics, took the top prize in the Graduate Poetry category for “Spicy Food.”

In the Creative Prose and Drama category, bioinformatics and molecular biology student Anjali Shinde won first place in the Undergraduate division for “Two Shards of the Rearview Mirror,” while science and technology studies doctoral student Maggie Mang won first place for “On the impossibility of purity in compromised spaces; or, how would one react upon slaughtering chickens” in the Graduate division.

Vixey Foxwish Douglas, a computer science undergraduate, took the top prize in the Undergraduate Academic Essay category for “North American Red Fox Rabies Immunity Gene Drive for Safer (Sub)Urban Rewilding,” while communications and media student Chris Althoff won the Graduate category with “Thank You for the Content.”

Biology and communications, media, and design student Emma Abercrombie was awarded first place for “Embodied” in the Electronic Mixed Media Using Language category.

A special category was established last year 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, and the results were so strong that the prize was offered again this year. Language and Empowerment 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.

Nyah Philip, an undergraduate student in environmental engineering, won first prize in this category with the submission, “How to Crack a Breastbone” (and other poems).”

“The McKinney Awards recognize the vital importance of encouraging a new generation of writers and artists to raise their voices on the issues that matter most to them,” said Skye Anicca, a lecturer in the Department of Communication and Media at Rensselaer and the chair of the McKinney Award Committee.

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 SCER Staff
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