Abigail Greenbaum, an associate professor of English, said the winners were selected out of a pool of students from Berry College, Shorter University, Georgia Highlands College and Georgia Northwestern Technical College.
After commenting on the overwhelming task of judging the entries, Greenbaum announced that Berry students McKenzie Reeves, Chelsea Fryar and Emily Caldwell won in the categories of non-fiction, poetry and fiction, respectively.
‘Popsicle Stick Jesus’s’
Reeves, from Alpharetta, read her short memoir, “Popsicle Stick Jesus’s,” that was based on her experience dating — and breaking up with — her ex-boyfriend who decided to go into the priesthood. The work also delineated her thoughts on masculinity and the church, carefully knitted together with detailed accounts of her experiences.
She recounted the moment when her ex told her over dinner at a Mexican restaurant that he was joining the church:
“It’s nauseating, really, when the person you used to kiss tells you they will never kiss again, especially you, and probably only the tops of babies’ heads and the hands of very old, very sick people,” she read and was answered by laughter. “I wanted to vomit. It may have been the smell of shrimp and spinach quesadillas permeating the space between my shock and his newfound piety. Regardless, he had an odd liking of fruit flavored ice cream and learning Kung Fu that I no longer found endearing.”
Reeves mulled over her own religious experiences growing up in a Southern Baptist church setting, where worshippers express their faith to Jesus by “dunking people in large, square tubs” and enjoying Sunday lunch in a circle of metal, folding chairs:
“Somewhere in between the Sunday school felt board and gluing Popsicle stick Jesus’s, I missed the lesson on where boys and girls are supposed to represent God differently. Boys can throw punches … and read the Bible in funny accents, but that was just ‘boys being boys,’ when we girls wore stockings, spoke gently and said ‘please.’ We asked questions about the sanction and the invariable love of our Popsicle Stick Savior.”
‘Anarchy for Him Body Spray’
In one of Fryar’s winning poems, “Anarchy for Him Body Spray,” the Chattanooga native regaled her audience with a past experience she endured when she briefly dated a boy who wore far too much Axe body spray:
“The way I smelled after I pulled away from his broad shoulders and smothering embrace of possessive nouns— Axe conqueror come to steal away all the girls’ hearts. A mask to cover the stale odor of insecurity, a false shadow hiding his quest for acceptance, his desperation …”
Fryar said in a post-reading interview that she felt writing was cathartic.
“The whole process is kind of a surprise,” she said. “It always kind of surprises me when something in my head works out, and it flows the way I want it to, and I get to the end, and I’m like … Wow. That actually came from me.”
‘A Brief Outburst of Pent Up Aggression’
In Caldwell’s short fictional story, “A Brief Outburst of Pent Up Aggression,” she explored the world of Rosemary, a 10-year-old elementary school student who is incredibly gifted at her young age. Rosemary is obsessed with winning the Perfect Attendance Award, which would finally give her a one-up over her arch nemesis, Cathleen.
Using fast-paced, clever details interlaced with dark humor, Caldwell, of Knoxville, Tenn., explained the type of child Rosemary is:
“Rosemary herself, having absorbed every page of her Great-Aunt Rosemary’s encyclopedia set from the age of 5, considered herself now, in the fifth grade, to have the vocabulary, sentence structure and basic intelligence of a white male in his early 50s.”
Caldwell said Rosemary’s history teacher, Mr. Fonder, was quite a character himself:
“His favorite teaching mechanism, Experience Day, involved putting his students into simulations of historical events so they could gain perspective on pain and suffering.”
On that particular Experience Day, Rosemary’s fifthgrade class was making shanties out of cardboard boxes and pieces of wood to simulate life during the Great Depression. But after a series of events, during which Cathleen insults Rosemary, the young brainiac has what she calls a brief outburst of pent up aggression, resulting in her lunging at Cathleen ready to attack, but failing miserably. Before she knows it, she falls and lands on a shanty, causing the others to topple like dominos.
In the end Rosemary was punished for trying to harm Cathleen by having to go home for the day. Sadly, the little girl did not win the Perfect Attendance Award but learned a valuable lesson: It’s OK to not be perfect.
“I was shocked,” Caldwell said of her winning after she read her story. “I’ve never taken a creative writing class before or done anything here in English before, so I couldn’t believe it. I think I will continue (writing) as a hobby. I do quite like to write.”