A yearly highlight of the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program is our James Kirkwood Literary Prize in Creative Writing, which gives intermediate and advanced level instructors the chance to nominate their very best students. Now in its twentieth year, this year’s competition had 41 outstanding submissions. First round judges Ron Alexander, Beth Ann Bauman, liz gonzalez, Marissa Matarazzo, and final round judges Eve La Salle Caram and Anne Sanow, were tasked with narrowing the submissions to three worthy finalists.

Andrew Morse, benefactor of the award, then determined the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners from the three nominees that made the cut: WL Dherin, nominated by Lisa Cron; Cybelle Greenman, nominated by Les Plesko, and Sarah Watson, nominated by Mark Sarvas.

First place went to WL Dherin for her short story, “Could Not Be Pictured,” about a neglected, disassociated girl trying to make sense of her mother’s inability to love her. Anne Sanow says of WL’s piece: “This writer’s voice grabs your attention immediately–it’s assured and distinctive, with a wonderful ear for dialogue and sharp descriptions. It’s tough to pull off a point-of-view that is close to a child, but this writer stakes the perfect vantage point and isn’t afraid to take a risk.”

WL shares, “I moved to a small city in Brazil and knew it would be next to impossible to create or find a good writer’s group. I looked for low-residency graduate programs but the cost was prohibitive. I took a chance and asked an administrator from one of the better programs what she would do if she were me (strapped for cash, living abroad) and she said the Writers’ Program, hands down.”

Student Cybelle Greenman placed second with an excerpt from her novel Ground Cover, about two people who stumble together in L.A. and find in each other a respite from self-destruction. Cybelle says that she first took a Wp’ course, “…to ignite the creative fire I’d almost extinguished.” She adds, “I’m deeply grateful to Les Plesko. He offered me a safe space and challenged me to trust myself, write in scenes, and keep asking the question, what problem is your character trying to solve at 3am?”

“With sharp details and an aura of suspense, you can already tell that something is at stake and you want to read on,” says Anne about this submission.

Finally, Sarah Watson took third with an excerpt from her YA novel, Mercury, about seventeen-year-old Ellie Cooper who lives in the small town of Mercury, Arizona. Ellie hates everything about the tiny swelteringly hot town that she calls home, but her feelings about the heat change when a strange boy moves to town with an even stranger reason for embracing the heat.

Final round judge Eve La Salle Caram says, “I love stories about place and this does it well—the setting really comes through.”

Sarah shares, “I’ve always had this vague dream about writing a novel but I had no idea where to begin. This is why I originally signed up for Mark Sarvas’s Novel I class–at the very least I figured the class would force me to finish a chapter. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that at the end of taking Novel I, II, and III with Mark that I’d have a completed manuscript.”

Congratulations to this year’s winners and all of our talented nominees!

Mae Respicio is the Program Representative for Onsite Creative Writing. Email her to share your publication success or to chat about your writing goals.

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