“This was our wedding day, typically a day of celebration and joy. But I felt like a student who, about to take the most important exam of her life, had not only failed to study but had also forgotten a number 2 pencil. And a blue exam book. And pants.” –from Pretty Christian by Meghan Davis Mercer

From left: Ruth Rudnick, Elizabeth Figuls, Erika Schickel, and Meghan Davis Mercer

The Writers’ Program is happy to announce creative writing student Meghan Davis Mercer as the winner of this year’s Allegra Johnson Prize in Memoir Writing!  Meghan was nominated for the award by nonfiction instructor Erika Schickel for her work-in-progress Pretty Christian. Among the 11 nominees, Sunita Puri—nominated by instructor Samantha Dunn—and Ruth Rudnick—nominated by Barbara Abercrombie were runners up. In addition to being recognized at a luncheon for their work, winner Meghan Davis Mercer receives a $5,000 prize on behalf of the benefactors, and finalists Puri and Rudnick each receive a complimentary full-length Writers’ Program course.

Alternating years between aspiring novelists and memoirists, the Allegra Johnson Prize in Memoir and Novel Writing was created in 2014 by Roberta J.M. Olson and Alexander B.V. Johnson to honor their daughter, a prolific and talented young writer who was working on a memoir and a novel through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program when her life was tragically cut short. This merit-based and instructor-nominated award was created by her parents in the spirit of making a difference in the lives of promising Writers’ Program students.

This year’s submissions were judged by Tom Fields-Meyer, Wendy C. Ortiz, and Marriane Villanueva. Meghan Davis Mercer’s submission was summed up by the judges this way: “The Prelude to Pretty Christian promises an extraordinarily funny and unusual voice coming to us just four hours from the wedding ceremony that will lock our narrator into holy matrimony—or will it? What follows is the delivery on that promise. The humor running through this piece from start to finish engages and surprises even as it questions and informs.”

Sunita Puri’s submission, Impulse, about a new doctor’s unexpected journey into the field of palliative care, “is told with an uncomplicated, powerful precision, never becoming sentimental, always beautifully, remarkably human.” And of Ruth Rudnick’s memoir-in-progress This Only Matters to Me: Stories from My Childhood That I Never Told My Friends, one judge commented: “I loved the narrator, I loved seeing how her mind works: the imaginative flights of fancy, the self-deprecation, the anxiety. The thread of her thoughts was always, always surprising, but never implausible.”

From left: Charlie Jensen, Carla Janas, Elizabeth Figuls, Ruth Rudnick, instuctor Erika Schickel, and award winner Meghan Davis Mercer

All three finalists were celebrated at a luncheon hosted by the Prize’s benefactors Ms. Olson and Mr. Johnson on June 9th in Westwood Village near the UCLA Campus. Also in attendance were Writers’ Program Director Charles Jensen, Program Representative Carla Janas, nominating instructor for Megan Davis Mercer, Erika Schickel, and last year’s winner in Novel Writing Elizabeth Figuls.  As Ms. Olson noted, “all three finalists are gifted wordsmiths and magicians with dialogue” and “have demonstrated that memoir writing is alive and well.”  We here at the Writers’ Program could not agree more!

Click here for more information about the Allegra Johnson Prize and other scholarship and prize opportunities.

To read excerpts from the manuscripts of two of the three finalists, go here:

Meghan Davis Mercer Submission

Sunita Puri Submission

Ruth Rudnick Submission

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