Los Angeles Region

Writers Day Contest Winners: 2020

The number of awards given in each category is proportional to the number of qualifying entries. This year, the first-place winners in each category will receive a manuscript critique from one of our faculty members plus free tuition to either the rescheduled 2020 Writers Day event or to next year’s Writers Day.


Second Runner-up: R. F. Heyburn for Queen of the Nerds

In the prelude of this solid YA memoir that reads like a novel, fifteen-year-old Brandi learns that the pain she is experiencing is connected to her relations with her seventeen-year-old boyfriend, Jerome. As the young patient waits in a doctor’s office for her mother and doctor, she takes in a type of room that is new to her, with a detailed drawing of a baby inside a womb, a diagram of the female anatomy, and a box of pamphlets on subjects unfamiliar to her: urinary tract infections, yeast infections, gonorrhea, chlamydia, herpes, and cervical cancer. The grim predicament that awaits Brandi and her sympathetic first-person voice draw us in. In the chapter that follows, the author deftly steps back in time and gives readers something of a respite with the social dynamics at Brandi’s school and an introduction of her underdog character to Jerome. Vivid descriptions, sharp characterizations, and skillful use of dialogue help make this memoir an absorbing read.

First Runner-up: Paula Henson for Bugs on Vacation

Are you a beetle, butterfly or bumblebee in need of a much-deserved holiday? If so, you’re in luck: The Insect Inn has something for you arthropods! In this lighthearted explanatory picture book, we’re extended an enticing vacation invitation with a plethora of fun options—while hardly realizing we’re learning about insects and other real-life little creatures in the process. “Enjoy reclining all six (or eight) of your legs in the sun on our spacious pond-side deck while your larvae play among the pebbles and algae.” A snippet of educational info follows: “Larvae are the form of many arthropods before they go through metamorphosis (changes in growth) and become adults.” This nonfiction picture book delivers solid information about the natural world with a mound of humor and fun.

Winner: Wakako Rollinger for A Cup of Tea With Issa

Haiku poet Kobayahi Issa, better known as Issa, or A Cup of Tea, is such a good fit for a picture book biography it’s startling that this subject hasn’t been done before. Here, his life and outlook are fully captured, resulting in a book that sings. The author has based this work on thorough research, but fashioned it with restraint and appropriately spare text. Following the story’s rhythms, some spreads include no samples of his haikus while others showcase more than one—as when we learn he would pick a subject such as a nightingale and write about it from different angles. One page ends, “While people are enjoying family time, Issa kept writing. ‘pearl of the dews / in every single one of them / I see my home.’” Like Issa, the author has created an outwardly simple yet deeply felt and strikingly beautiful work.


Second Runner-up: Sarah Parker-Lee for Arctic Rift

What was so compelling about this entry was the extremely tense, fine line that the main character, Mye, must walk. Her emotions are so heightened, but she has to force it all below the surface, and that’s such an interesting and hard thing to write. My favorite kind of stories are ones in which we worry about the characters, and I worried about Mye from the first page.

First Runner-up: Kate Korsh for Good Girl Traveling

This entry brought me back to my own childhood during the Cold War, but more than just nostalgia, I was drawn in by Molly’s inner monologue filled with just the right balance of angst and excitement. The structure of beginning each chapter with a travel journal that she’s slightly lying to was skillfully written, and even from just the 10 pages, I could tell that Molly’s journey into the strange land called the Soviet Union was one I wanted to follow her on.

Winner: Virginia Pooler for Honor Camp

“The juxtaposition of the deadly serious prologue and the lighter tone of the first chapter kept me on my toes,” said our YA judge. “I appreciated that I didn’t have to wait too long to understand what was going on, and how the prologue tied in. The crackerjack dialogue and the strong personality of the characters, particularly the main character CeeCee, made this entry immensely readable and I was truly sad when the 10 pages were up.”


Second Runner-up: Mary Shannon for The Secret Text of Parental Transgressions

A unique story of siblings on the run, "The Secret Text of Parental Transgressions" captivates with its aware-of-itself fairy-tale style, and a brother who might be an adult in a kid’s body. Kids will latch onto the quick-thinking Mimi as she adventures through the woods with her peculiar brother meeting other fascinating characters.

First Runner-up: Bohdan Porendowsky for Edgar in the Wild

Set in a futuristic world with virtual reality headsets and self-driving lawnmowers, "Edgar in the Wild" features a willful boy who isn’t talking to his parents, yet manages to burst with personality. Secondary characters, Mom called “Perky” and Dad called “Bolt,” are additionally fascinating and well-drawn. Readers will eagerly await Edgar’s escape to the wild.

Winner: Jim Cox for Nano

Sharp with promise, voice, and hilarity, "Nano" is the story of two brothers who watch a meteor shower together. Tom and Buddy’s characterization and banter is both realistic and wildly entertaining. The plot clips along, gripping hard when the boys witness a meteorite’s fall to Earth and agree to go “halfsies” on the smoldering rock that will no doubt change their lives forever.


Second Runner-up: Erica Rich for Roxy Steps Up

Roxy has no ordinary family—circus folks make a big show of dinnertime. But some rules are the same as in other families: no leaving the table until everyone’s finished eating. Roxy wants to go back to digging treasure in her backyard, but by the time Uncle Chico’s torching the crème brûlée, it’s too dark to play outside. Then Roxy comes up with a brilliant plan—one that pleases her quirky family, while creating a new tradition for everyone to enjoy. This funny, kid-friendly romp is utterly delightful. You could say that this story is a clowning achievement.

First Runner-up: Moni Ritchie Hadley for Zan Loves D

Zan loves Daddy. Daddy’s always been there for Zan—to protect and care for her. Then when Zan turns five, things start to change. As Zan loses a tooth and cuts her bangs, Daddy loses the beard and grows long hair. Before long, Daddy is walking on heels, wearing a dress, and going by a new name, DeeDee. All throughout this change, Zan is curious, thoughtful, and ultimately accepting. When others stare, Zan holds DeeDee’s hand. When Zan misses Daddy, DeeDee hugs Zan. One thing never changes: Zan loves DeeDee, and DeeDee loves Zan. The author of this kid-friendly, touching story takes an honest and light-hearted approach (devoid of any judgement) to tell this very real story of a daddy making a change in order to embrace a new gender identity.

Winner: Celia Viramontes for Abuelito And Me At The Library—A Bracero Family Story

In this beautifully written and touching story, we follow a girl named, Chita, as she gets to know her abuelito, who’s visiting from Mexico. When Chita takes abuelito to the library in search of stories, she discovers that her grandpa’s story is the most captivating of all. He tells about a little boy chasing butterflies in a small village with no school or library, who taught himself to read. When that boy became a man and left his family to work as a bracero, he sent letters home soaring in the sky across faraway lands. Through a deeply personal lens, we learn about a little-known moment in U.S./Mexico history, when, during WWII, men from Mexico were hired to build railroads in the U.S. as part of the Bracero Program. Brazos, strong arms, were needed to lay new railroad tracks. Chita’s moving story is bursting with culture and heart.