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Students earn national awards for excellence in writing

  • Photo of Maria McKee
  • Paige Leland

Posted on November 20, 2017

Poetry crafted by two Grand Valley students has received national recognition for excellence in writing.

Paige Leland and Maria McKee earned "Intro Awards" from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) competition. The competition aims to spotlight the best new works by students enrolled in the AWP member program. 

Chris Haven, associate professor of writing, said "it's practically unheard of" to have two undergraduate students win this award. 

Leland, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in writing, said her professors played a large role in her success as a writer. She now lives in Houston, Texas.

“Writing students are very lucky at Grand Valley to have a stand-alone writing department that affords them the opportunity to form great relationships with professors from early on in each of their undergraduate careers,” Leland said. 

She said Todd Kaneko, assistant professor of writing, and Amorak Huey, associate professor of writing, influenced her passion for poetry.

“They each enthusiastically took on the task of converting a self-proclaimed non-poet into someone who not only loves poetry but publishes poetry,” she said. “They are both so kind, encouraging and leaders by example, and just knowing I had their support was enough to convince me to submit to the prize.”

Leland hopes to pursue a master of fine arts degree in poetry next year. Her award-winning poetry has been published in the Tahoma Literary Review. Her other work has been published in The 3288 Review, South 85 Journal, Marathon Literary Review, The Quaker, Colleague’s Magazine, Polaris Literary Magazine, Chicago Literati and locally in Running Out of Ink and fishladder, Grand Valley’s student-run literary journal. 

McKee also didn’t discover her love for poetry until attending Grand Valley. She was a history major and took an introduction to creative writing course with Huey, who encouraged her to take more writing classes. After taking Huey’s poetry workshop course, McKee decided to double major in history and writing. 

She said that receiving an award from AWP was shocking because she is still getting used to being a writing major.

“I shied away from creative writing because I didn’t think I was good at it,” McKee said. “I still have imposter syndrome and receiving an email that I won this award was a validating moment. I feel like it’s my genre—poetry is my main squeeze.” 

McKee works at the Fred Meijer Center for Writing & Michigan Authors as a peer consultant. She won Grand Valley’s Poetry Prize in 2016 and 2017 and has a short story published in fishladder. McKee’s AWP award-winning poem will be published in Puerto del Sol.

Story written by Marissa LaPorte, student writer