For the past 40 years, the English department has held an annual creative writing contest with two categories: fiction and poetry. First, second and third place winners receive cash prizes and get published in the “Cal Poly Literary Annual Byzantium.”
“Byzantium” is a student-run literary journal which consists of the winning entries and editors’ choices selected from the annual Al Landwehr Creative Writing Contest.
“The work that goes into the journal itself is amazing,” said Aaron Rowley, third place fiction winner and biomedical engineering junior. “To me, ‘Byzantium’ is just a testament to how motivated and creative students in our community can be.”
Two separate faculty judging committees, one for poetry and one for fiction, judge the entries of the competition. The journal’s co-editors then select additional works they want to publish in addition to the six winning entries.
Origining in 1991, “Byzantium” has published literary works by students who have gone on to prestigious graduate schools in creative writing, including Columbia, Emerson, University of California Davis, University of California Irvine, and San Francisco State.
Byzantium complements the English department’s creative writing emphasis by providing a capstone publication that demonstrates a student and department commitment to creative writing.
Typically, two English students are chosen to be co-editors. This year’s “Byzantium” editors are English seniors Meg Archer and Sam Reynard.
Working with art director Allie Harold, the editors are responsible for all aspects of the publication: choosing a printer, laying out the text, editing the text, selling the magazine and coordinating the unveiling ceremony, which will occur May 22 in Ag Engineering building, room 123.
The two editors are earning senior project credit for their work on the literary journal.
Although Reynard said she is not much of a creative writer herself, she enjoys participating in the production and editing of “Byzantium.” All the winners this year are of great quality, Reynard said.
“What’s really unusual is that both the first place poem and first place fiction stories transform older forms and styles into very contemporary ways of seeing life right now,” contest director Kevin Clark said.
This year, English students Anna Bush and Jesseca Zwicker won first place in the Creative Writing Contest. Bush’s sonnet “Sea Glass,” which is about the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, and Zwicker’s story, “Ferryman,” a dystopian story about earth and the afterlife, won them both $100.
“I intend to use the money to buy books for my grad classes next quarter,” Bush said. “I am going to need a bigger bookshelf.”
Bush’s sonnet is in an old form that is very difficult to make contemporary, Clark said.
“She is highly inventive with the form for such a young poet,” Clark said.
Zwicker’s story is “harrowing and brilliant,” Clark said.
Reynard said the judges usually struggle to decide which story is deserving of first place, but Zwicker’s story was a clear first choice to all of the judges, as they determined her writing style to be beyond college level.
“The first place fiction choice (‘Ferryman’) was a unanimous decision,” Reynard said. “Everyone immediately knew this piece was the winner.”
This year’s competition received more entries than ever before.
“It’s been really great seeing the talent we have here on campus,” Reynard said.
Reynard said she enjoys seeing students from other departments and majors participate in the writing contest.
“Our second and third place fiction winners are not English majors, which is cool,” she said.
In order to remain an equal and balanced opportunity for students to have their work chosen for the journal, students submit their work under a pseudonym. This ensures everyone an equal opportunity to be published, Reynard said.
The unveiling ceremony will give each of the first, second and third place winners the opportunity to read their work out loud.
“Byzantium” has acted as the publication medium for the Al Landwehr Award since the Mustang Daily ceased to publish the contest’s winners in 1991, due to financial restraints.
In 1991, English alumna Jocelyn Webb Pedersen decided to edit and publish the first journal as her senior project. Drawing on the name of the utopian city in the poems of W.B. Yeats, Pedersen titled the journal “Byzantium.”
Byzantium is distributed to the public for free, and will be released for the first time this year on Sunday.