Walter F. Spara Writing Competition

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Walter F. Spara Writing Competition

Winners receive accolades at awards ceremony

Photo by Sarah Richards
Joshua Olson, Brenna Tressler, Abbigail Andrade, Nena Gluchacki, Abigail Johnson, and Georgana Hess strike a winning pose.

By Sarah Richards


Seven students placed in the Walter F. Spara writing contest this year in the categories of poetry, essay, and short story. Brenna Tressler, majoring in Elementary Education, dominated the awards: first and second place in essay and second place in short story.

“Walter Spara has not disappeared—he is reflected here,” English professor Sara Smith said of Spara (who taught Creative Writing at the college) in her opening remarks at Pensacola State College’s annual writing awards reception Nov. 15. “Poetry allows us to reclaim the fragments of our life. I’ve never met this man, but I get a sense of him through his poetry,”

Tressler’s first-place entry, “Why I Have Fears That I May Cease to Be,” was a sentimental piece about the time she followed an orange cat into her neighbor’s yard. “I reminisced on a neighbor who was really important in my life. She was the physical embodiment of kindness. I just wanted to be like her.”

Brenna’s writing process is simple: “I bust out really fast—if I don’t do it all in one draft, I won’t finish it.”

She plans on using her writing skills to benefit the children she will someday teach. “I think having creativity will be good for planning activities.”

Journalism major, Joshua Olson, came in third for his narrative, “Learning ‘ME’ Again”—detailing his war with P.T.S.D., giving a clear and impassioned reading at the event.

“I want to be a sports writer, but want to write literature, too…I have a lot to say, I guess,” Olson said.

Olson was a photojournalist in the Navy on an aircraft carrier—the George Washington— and credits J.D. Salinger as the reason “why I ever wanted to become a writer at all.”

Nena Gluchacki, English major, won first place in poetry for “New Suburbia.” She sees poetry’s role in society as a way to “say what other people are afraid to say.”

“[Poetry] helps me get out the things I shouldn’t say in polite company…it’s artsy when you say it in a poem,” Gluchacki said.

Her plan is to go into the University of West Florida’s Creative Writing program, but she makes it clear that plans and goals are two different things. “My goal is to be a publisher in Europe; my plan is to get my Master’s in Library Sciences.”

Georgana Hess finished third with her poem, “Power Suit.” The inspirations behind her poem were the “angry feminists during the most recent presidential campaign and my awareness of how wonderful it is to be a woman. All the things that make being a woman such a gift.”

“I think poetry happens a bit like falling in love, when you aren’t looking. The idea pops, and I follow when and where it leads,” Hess said. “Sometimes it is a catastrophe, sometimes it’s magic.” She credits Todd Neuman for his encouragement and support.

Poetry isn’t dead, for as far as Hess is concerned, you hear it whenever you turn on a radio. “I believe it helps people (all people) find a way to connect whether it is written, spoken word, or set to a musical score.”

Poetry also helps her “sort through issues (good, bad or indifferent) without involving others.” Kim Addonizio’s poem, “‘Fuck’ reached me on the greatest level, but I truly adore her,” she said.

For Tressler, the notion of reading in front of an audience was “more terrifying than being locked in a room with 100 or more clowns, but once it was over I was so glad to have done it.”

As Tressler concludes in her story, “Why I Have Fears that I May Cease to Be,” “The world will keep moving even after I’m long dead, but it also reminds me of the need to be active in all things, so that when the Earth moves on without me, it will at least move a bit differently because of me.”

As Smith said, the contest is a “milestone” for those who write—it doesn’t make you a writer. When you write, you are a writer.