“Byzantium” has arrived.
The literary journal showcasing the winners of Cal Poly’s creative writing contest will be unveiled Saturday at Sally Loo’s Wholesome Café.
The Al Landwehr Creative Writing Contest, which started in the ’70s, awards monetary prizes to six students — first, second and third place winners for both poetry and fiction — whose work is chosen anonymously by judges in the English department.
This year, Kate Sugar took first place in poetry, while Aaron Rowley won for fiction. Both will receive $100 at the unveiling event.
The winning pieces and a number of editors’ selections are published as “Byzantium.”
“This journal, in a way, hosts the future of California writing,” said English Professor Kevin Clark, who oversees the making of “Byzantium.”
The annual has been compiled, edited and designed by students since its first volume in 1991. Before that, Mustang Daily published the contest’s winning works but stopped for budgetary reasons.
English senior Brita Shallcross, English junior Chrissy Berry and art and design senior Catherine King undertook “Byzantium” as their senior projects.
Clark said this year’s editors have been “spectacular.”
“Being an editor of Byzantium is not simply (choosing the editors’ selection pieces),” Clark said. “It’s much more than that.”
Shallcross and Berry spent several months fundraising, proofreading and working with the contest judges. As art director, King crafted the journal’s design theme.
Shallcross said this year’s theme, dubbed “Journey,” draws from the nostalgic image of a typewriter. The cover art features an old-fashioned typewriter, and the typeface throughout mimics that of a typewriter.
“Anyone can interpret (the title) the way they want — a spiritual journey, an emotional journey, a physical journey,” she said. “But a typewriter kind of condenses that into one image, and I like the iconic, almost rustic feel of the typewriter.”
Shallcross said she “couldn’t be happier” with the finished product.
“I definitely teared up when I was opening the first box and I pulled it out,” Shallcross said. “It was kind of surreal to be working on something for so long and then to hold it in my hands and know that I did this.”
Shallcross said the poems and stories chosen this year also reflect a high caliber of work.
Sugar’s first-place poem, “Corpses of Lovers Planted Here,” is a conversation between two dead people, one of them questioning how they died.
“It is a strange piece that was originally inspired by the literature I was reading for one of my major courses,” Sugar said in an email. “It started out as a poem about nature and death, and somehow became more of a love poem.”
Sugar, an English senior set to pursue a master of fine arts degree at Columbia University in the fall, originally wrote the piece for a literature class, but she refined the poem in Clark’s advanced poetry workshop.
Creative writing professors, such as Clark, do not judge the contest because students often submit work written in their classes.
Rowley, on the other hand, is a biomedical engineering senior who has never taken a creative writing course.
His first-place story, “A New View,” follows a dialogue between an old man and a younger man whose paths have crossed at a crucial moment.
Although Rowley has been published in “Byzantium” twice before, this is his first time winning the contest.
“I feel like it was way more meaningful than it would have been if I had won it another year because it’s my last year to even enter,” he said. “So I feel like going out with that win is rad.”
Rowley said he doesn’t have any firm plans to pursue writing after graduation, but he holds it in “equal regard” to engineering.
“Maybe I’ll be able to balance both those fields in some way, but just because I’m majoring in engineering doesn’t mean I won’t pursue writing,” he said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out what I’m going to pursue.”
For now, Rowley said he is looking forward to Saturday’s unveiling event, where he and the other selectees will have the opportunity to read their works.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Rowley said. “I’m extremely excited to hear the other pieces, because they’re always so good.”
Starting at 7 p.m., the chosen poets will read their poems, Rowley will read his entire story and the other fiction selectees will share three minutes worth of their stories.
“Byzantium” will be available for free at the event, as well as in the English Department office in Faculty Offices North, room 32.