Knox Students Win Nick Adams Writing Competition

First prize to Adam Sirgany, honorable mentions to Julia Ohman, Sam Martone

April 28, 2011

Adam SirganyKnox College senior Adam Sirgany is the latest in Knox's long roster of winners in a prestigious college writing competition. Sirgany's story, "Andrew at Eid" won first prize in the 2011 Nick Adams Short Story Contest, sponsored by the Associated Colleges of the Midwest.

Sirgany's story was selected from more than 40 entries submitted by students from Knox and 13 other schools in the ACM.

In addition, two other Knox students, Sam Martone and Julia Ohman, were named finalists and received Honorable Mention awards.

Since the contest began in 1973, 49 Knox students have been named finalists and ten of those have been selected as first place winners -- nearly twice as many finalists and winners as the next college in the ACM's cumulative record listing.

The competition -- named after a character created by Ernest Hemingway -- includes a first place award of $1,000 provided by an anonymous donor.

Entries in the contest are submitted by students from Knox and other ACM schools -- Beloit College, Carleton College, Coe College, Colorado College, Cornell College, Grinnell College, Lake Forest College, Lawrence University, Luther College, Macalester College, Monmouth College, Ripon College and St. Olaf College.

This year, 41 entries were judged first by a committee of ACM faculty that chose five finalists -- Sirgany, Martone and Ohman from Knox, along with Rachel Johnson of Luther and Tressa Versteeg of Macalester.

The finalists are then judged by a guest writer from outside the ACM. This year, Binnie Kirshenbaum, a novelist and professor and chair of the Writing Program at the Columbia University Graduate School of the Arts, selected Sirgany as the overall winner, and Martone and Ohman for honorable mentions.

Kirshenbaum praised Sirgany's story as a "richly textured tale of filial love and the subsequent loss of innocence. The juxtaposition of generations and cultures within this Egyptian-American family is portrayed with honesty and love. They emerge as multi-dimensional and complicated people. The inevitable but unexpected clash -- disturbing and poignant -- nonetheless results in wise acceptance of the seasons of life. It is also a very funny story."

A political science major from Stockton, Illinois, who also plays saxophone in the Knox Jazz Ensemble, Sirgany currently is working on an advanced research project that profiles several homeless and formerly homeless individuals and their relationships to art and creativity. After graduating from Knox College in June, Sirgany plans to combine his interests in political science and creative writing.

In her comments on the Honorable Mention stories, Kirshenbaum said that Martone's "Luggage Lost" is a "wonderfully imagined story... surprise delights the reader on every page"; while Ohman's "The Zoo" is a "powerful coming-of-age story further enriched by the engaging narrator's grappling with his sexual orientation. The complex settings are vivid and the characters are sympathetic."

Ohman is a creative writing major from Portland, Oregon. Martone is a creative writing major from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, who was also a finalist in 2009.

Kirshenbaum has been named one of the Best Young American Novelists by Granta Magazine. She has also won two Critics' Choice Awards. Her novels "Hester Among the Ruins" and "An Almost Perfect Moment" have won Favorite Book of the Year awards from the Chicago Tribune.

In addition to having more finalists, winners and two-time finalists than any other college in the ACM, Knox also has only three-time finalist in the 39-year history of the competition -- Josh Stevens, a 1995 Knox graduate and publisher of Reedy Press, an award-winning specialty publishing company in St. Louis.

Founded in 1837, Knox is a national liberal arts college in Galesburg, Illinois, with students from 48 states and 51 countries. Knox's "Old Main" is a National Historic Landmark and the only building remaining from the 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates.