Graduating students to share theses at WLP awards

by Emily Murphy / Beacon Staff • April 18, 2013

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Senior Jon Simmons will be reading his short story Authenticity, which won for Distinction in Fiction, at the award ceremony today.
courtesy of Jon Simmons
Senior Jon Simmons will be reading his short story Authenticity, which won for Distinction in Fiction, at the award ceremony today.
courtesy of Jon Simmons

Every year, a horde of writing, literature, and publishing seniors scramble to finish their theses to complete their Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees. Some sit at their computers in revision purgatory while others chatter to their thesis advisors about overflowing ideas. Today, a handful will be given awards. 

At 2 p.m., the 20th Annual Senior Creative Thesis Reading and Writing Awards Presentation will be held in the Little Building Cabaret. The event will showcase work from nine writing, literature, and publishing students in the genres of poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction.

Winners will read a 10-minute section from their personal work, and some will share excerpts from their senior theses. 

According to Wendy Walters, the undergraduate writing, literature, and publishing coordinator and an associate professor, this is the first year the writing awards and senior thesis reading will be held together in one uniform event. 

“[Since incorporating the reading with the awards], the public will actually get to hear the winning writers,” Walters said.

Veronica del Rosario, who graduated this past fall with a double major in marketing communication and writing, literature, and publishing, is one of the students presenting part of her thesis. 

“My work was a collection of memoir nonfiction pieces,” she said. “They surround the past 10 years of my life in general and my adolescence in New York — starting with identity and relationships and also going into cultural topics.”

Del Rosario said she had selected 30 pages from her larger thesis of about 80 pages to submit. She compiled and revised workshopped personal essays written throughout her years at Emerson. One of her pieces, titled Portraits of Men, chronicled past experiences with boyfriends and her relationship with her father. 

After submitting her work in March, del Rosario was told last week that she won a $100 prize for Distinction in Nonfiction.

For all genres, awards are granted for High Distinction with a prize of $200, Distinction with $100, and Honorable Mention with a year’s subscription to Ploughshares, according to Walters.

In total, this year netted 33 submissions from seniors, Walters said. After manuscripts are sent in, faculty read them blind, meaning no names are attached to pieces. 

The Distinction in Fiction award this year was given to Jon Simmons for his short story titled Authenticity. According to the senior writing, literature, and publishing major, this piece was a reworking of the first story he had ever written.

“It’s about this family triangle, and the dilemmas that come up for the main character,” Simmons said. “I first wrote this when I was a senior in high school, and since then I’ve submitted it for workshop classes, and gone through revisions, making changes like one or two words, or scrapping entire paragraphs and rewriting them.”

According to Simmons, Authenticity is part of a collection of short stories he is working on for his senior thesis. This work is comprised of mostly realistic fiction, and includes the story Rising Up, which was nominated for an EVVY in Outstanding Prose Fiction last year, Simmons said.

While Simmons said his main focus was on revising, Holly Van Leuven’s own senior thesis provided an entirely new struggle.

The writing, literature, and publishing major, who graduated in December, said her thesis is a biography documenting the life of Ray Bolger, whose claim to fame was playing the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz

Van Leuven said she has spent the last couple years researching all she could about Bolger’s life, including spending the past summer in Los Angeles looking through archives and flying to Hawaii to interview family he had there. 

“I always had a significant interest in that period of American culture,” Van Leuven said. “When I was a freshman, I met a choreographer who worked with [Bolger] and was actually his [dance] partner for a while, and it just snowballed from there.” 

Richard Hoffman, a senior writer-in-residence and the thesis advisor for both Van Leuven and del Rosario, said helping BFA students with their writing is the best kind of teaching.

“I think it’s a great privilege to be able to sit one-on-one with a student that’s committed to writing, and working on something they’re excited about,” Hoffman said. “They’re hard-working and ambitious, and it takes a lot of time and attention. It’s teacher heaven.” 

Walters said she looks forward to hearing students read their work every year.

“This is one of my favorite events,” she said. “I teach literature, so I don’t get to see their creative work very often. It’s a terrific way to honor students.”