Gannon’s Annual Writing Awards to be held virtually


Madeline Bruce, Features Editor

Gannon University’s 43rd Annual Writing Awards will take place virtually at 6:30 p.m. Friday, six months later than it was originally scheduled.

Like most other events, the awards ceremony was postponed in April due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions prohibiting large gatherings.

At first, whether the ceremony would still take place was unknown. Carol Hayes, an assistant professor of English at Gannon, said the thought in the spring was that there would be a face-to-face ceremony held in the fall. However, that is not the case.

With a few weeks of planning, the event is being held virtually via Zoom, thanks to Shreelina Ghosh, Ph.D., assistant professor in Gannon’s English department and director of the event.

Gannon’s Writing Awards ceremony has been an annual event for over 40 years, taking place at the end of every spring semester to honor students from all three of the university’s colleges. Students earn awards in poetry, journalism and research writing. Awards are typically presented at the ceremony, but students were mailed their awards in the spring due to the unknowns surrounding the ceremony itself. However, the names of the winners of each category will be announced during the virtual event.

Along with the awards for Gannon students is a high school poetry contest, in which high school students from across the U.S. participate each year. New this year is also the Berwyn Moore Young Erie Poet Award, which is named after the retired English professor who continues to teach as an adjunct professor in the English department and coordinated the awards ceremony for four decades. This award honors an Erie-based poet.

In addition to the awards, the event will also feature the release of the 2020 edition of Totem, Gannon’s award-winning literary journal.

Perhaps the most anticipated part of the night will be the poetry reading by award-winning poet Allison Joseph.

Each year, a poet is invited to read a number of their poems and hold a workshop for students in tandem with the awards ceremony. Unfortunately, the workshop portion of Joseph’s visit had to be canceled, but she will still read her poems during the webinar.

Joseph, who was born in London to parents of Jamaican heritage, aligns with the theme adopted for this year’s CHESS speaker series theme, which is racial justice.

“Joseph’s multicultural exposure and experience as a black woman influences her poetry deeply and richly,” Ghosh said.

Joseph is the author of six poetry books and winner of several awards.

Despite its online format, Ghosh expects a good turnout for the event, which sees 250 to 300 high school students, teachers and parents each year, as well as audience members from the Gannon and Erie communities. If anything, her hopes for attendance are higher than that of past years.

“We might not have the charm of a face-to-face poetry reading experience in the grand and charming Yehl Ballroom,” Ghosh said. “However, the remote format has opened up the possibilities of more audience for our poetry reading.”

Still, others who will be attending think it will be inevitably different from past ceremonies.

“While we can feel assured that hearing Joseph read her poetry will be memorable, the fact that we are doing so at our computers will certainly be a change,” Hayes said. “Traditionally, this was a time when many community members joined attendees on campus.”

Though the online format of the event affects some aspects, such as the ability to interact with other attendees in person, the ceremony itself will not change much from its typical format.

“We still have many of the same features that we always have,” Laura Rutland, Ph.D., chair of Gannon’s English department, said. “Recognition of outstanding student writers, the formal release of last spring’s Totem and a reading from a nationally recognized writer will all still occur.”

The ceremony, which will take place in a webinar format on Zoom, will give Ghosh control over the event and prevents it from being e-bombed and spammed, as is the risk with the normal meeting feature on Zoom. In addition to Ghosh, the prize announcement panel, Totem editors and Joseph will have a “speaker” function. Attendees will not be able to speak during the event, but they will be able to use the chat feature to ask questions.

Despite the changes made to this year’s 43rd Annual Writing Awards, expectations are high for the night, and excitement is still in the air.

“This is going to be a wonderful event for the community,” Rutland said. “We hope that many students and members of the Erie community will attend.”



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