Palmer Contest Winners Share All

Vanessa Passo, Staff Writer

Elgin Community College has honored the life of late Florence B. Palmer, Elgin resident who made a significant impact to poetry, writing and the arts at ECC, according to Christopher Hankins of the Daily Herald.

In 1999, Palmer established a foundation that would contribute funds to a poetry contest held at ECC. The contest has been held for over 17 years, beginning as a poetry contest, with over hundreds of student participants each time, according to Rachael Stewart, member of the English department and director of the Writer’s Center.

This year posed as no different as posters displaying the Annual Florence Palmer Literary & Visual Art Contest hung variously around the school. Hopeful and creative students are allowed to submit an entry in one of four categories: visual arts, poetry, fiction and nonfiction.

“The contest is named for its founder, Florence Palmer, an Elgin teacher and poet, who wanted to do something to support young writers in the community.  The judges for the contest come from the English and Art departments. Each genre of writing is judged by individual teams of three faculty members,” Stewart said.

Each category of art has three cash prize award winners. The winning selections are published in Spire, and the winners also receive monetary awards of $900.00 for first place, $400.00 for second place, and $200.00 for third place,” Stewart said.

Not only does the idea of entering a contest that entails a cash prize allow for students around campus to express their creativity and emotions through a positive outlet, but to also inspire themselves and many others to showcase their talents to be recognized.

Some participants from the contest among the variety of categories shared their perspectives of their craft and their winnings. Many winning pieces of literature and art hold personal experiences and emotions to each student, in which they sought after through art to portray it in an appropriate manner.

“My piece is called “B-125”. It followed the severe bullying I endured during my sophomore year at my high school, from graffiti on my locker, vandalism of my things, verbal and physical bullying, an absent administration intervention and my rocky relationship with my mother, all leading up to my suicide attempt. I originally wrote this piece for an English assignment when we were assigned to write about a time we felt like “the odd one out.”,” said Ismael Cordova, second year student at ECC who won second place in the creative non-fiction category.

Among personal trials, passions and hobbies were also portrayed and highlighted through the art form of a comic.

“My submission was a Sci-Fi comic book called Metric City. I chose Sci-Fi because I grew up with technology. My dad is an engineer at his workplace and designs industrial robots and other applications. He would discuss it with me and it in turn inspired my love for the genre. Plus I love drawing, so comics were the logical route to channel storytelling and visual art into one package,” said John Michael Nunez, first year student at ECC, and third place winner in the fiction category.

Others felt compelled to write about the problems that pose as real and true to the society we live in, and the challenges we have overcome in the history of our world.

“My winning piece was about enslavement. I tried to make it relatable to the systemic problems in our world. It exhibits pain and torture to people (like me) who believe they have a hard life. To remind people how good their life is, and to remind them they are the good in the world,” said Kara Smith, ECC student who won first place in the poetry category.

Many participants were happy to share their love for their craft.

“I’ve been drawing since I can remember. I started my Metric City comic series when i was in middle school and only showed it to friends and family. When I get completely focused on my comic I just start to live in that world. It’s almost like the characters are alive in my mind and write themselves. My job is just to translate it to paper. That’s my favorite part of the whole process,” Nunez said.

“I have always thought poetry to be romantic and expressive. I love how poetry is focused on the content, and not grammar and punctuation. My love for the classic Shakespeare plays and sonnets was reignited by a class I took here at ECC,” Smith said.

Although each student holds their own in terms of their visual and literary arts, their love and inspiration stemming from prior experiences remains to be a common ground among each of them.

“I have always been very involved in writing. My seventh grade Challenge English teacher (who is currently a co-worker of mine) even told me now that she used to put my writing at the end of the stack so she can treat herself for getting through 30 writing assignments. As an ECC student, this is my second writing competition win, following my first place win in the ECC Veteran’s Day essay competition. My favorite thing about writing is like as I said earlier, bringing light to topics that matter, and being able to share my story in order to motivate others who might be struggling through something similar,”  Cordova said.

“While I have always had a love for the arts and literature, my affinity for writing started last year. It has become a significant part of my life. Now, there is hardly ever a day I don’t write something,” Smith said.
Each participant interviewed was more than willing to share personal information, and are all much deserving of their placement in the contest; a warm appreciation goes out to all who participated. Congratulations to all winners, whose pieces will be published in the upcoming issue of the Spire.