Department of Creative Writing announces annual award and scholarship winners

Author: Jessica Weber
July 21, 2020

Each year, UCR’s Department of Creative Writing bestows multiple awards to its undergraduate and graduate students. Below are this year’s winners.


The Chancellor’s Performance Award

The Chancellor’s Performance Award recognizes excellence in creative writing.

Vanesa Ruvalcaba
Manisha Prakash
Marvin Contreras
Adam Schwartz
Cole Deyo
Emily Armstrong
Zoe Zahnle
Glen Pacheco
Alejandro Garcia
Cynthia Valencia
Andrea Bennett

The Abraham L. Polonsky Award

The Abraham L. Polonsky Award was established by and is named after author and screenwriter Abraham L. Polonsky, whose films scripts include “Body and Soul,” “Force of Evil,” “Mommy Dearest,” and “Monsignor.” His novels include “The Enemy Sea,” “A Season of Fear,” and “Zenia's Way.” It is given to an outstanding creative writer.

Nicholas Denstaedt
Vanesa Ruvalcaba
Glaydah Namukasa
Patrick Carroll
Madeline Holler

The Maurya Simon Poetry Award

This award, named after Emeritus Professor Maurya Simon, is given to an outstanding poem submitted in an open contest.

Jonny Rodriguez

About Jonny Rodriguez’s winning poem, “We Are Young and Starving and Our Eyes Are Bigger Than Our Stomachs, But This is Ideal,” from award judge,  Associate Professor Allison Benis White:

“Every line of the poem is a knockout. Overall, I’m deeply impressed with the imagery, lineation, and form — and the last image is so startling and so eerily reflects our current situation (though the poem is, of course, responding to another large-scale tragedy, the 2018 California wildfires). The poem displays enormous control and restraint as it reaches for larger truths about the human condition: our collective delusions and revelations.”

L.M. & Marcia McQuern Endowed Graduate Award in Non-fiction Writing

Marcia McQuern, former journalist and president of the Press-Enterprise, served as a trustee of the UC Riverside Foundation from 1996-2005 and was then named associate vice chancellor of External Relations at UCR. McQuern and her husband Mac recognized the critical need for undergraduate and graduate student support. In order to encourage graduate students majoring in creative writing to pursue the study of nonfiction writing, they established the L.M. and Marcia McQuern Graduate Award in Non-Fiction Writing in 2003.

Amanda Oliver

Rube and Sis Unell Honorary Fund in Creative Writing

Rube Unell was a gag writer for a number of cartoonists whose work appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, Esquire, Laff, The New Yorker, and other publications. During World War II, Rube co-wrote a radio show called “The Brewster Boy” and wrote stories for Child Life Magazine. Unell encouraged writers to get as much education as possible and to follow their dreams. This award is given MFA students who exhibit both merit and need in the Creative Writing Program at UCR.

Crystal Salas

William Henry Willis Endowed Memorial Poetry Prize

The William Henry Willis Memorial Poetry Prize is an annual cash poetry prize created by John Willis ’66, M.A. ’68, Ph.D. ’71 in honor of his father, William Henry Willis, who emigrated to the United States from Canada in 1949 and worked in a local factory for most of his career. During breaks while working the graveyard shift at the factory, he would find time to write poetry that captured and enhanced the events of his family life. This prize was created to honor Willis’ love of poetry by encouraging this mode of creativity in future generations. Selection is based on creative, artistic, and intellectual achievement and potential, with a preference for a poem that touches upon family stories or immigrant communities with humor and/or irony.

Emily Clarke
Kitty Chu

About the William Henry Willis Endowed Memorial Poetry Prize winners from award judge, Professor Katie Ford: 

“The William Willis Award has two winners this year. Kitty Chu's stunning prose poem ‘Not Yet’ opens the interior world of an immigrant mother whose sacrifice and sadness is enacted in the intimate preparation of ginseng soup. Chu brilliantly evokes the devastating examples of how immigrants are continuously silenced by the ‘not yet’ of their new America. 

“Emily Clarke's winning poem, ‘Reservation Required,’ is a fierce litany of the stereotypes created to subjugate Native Americans, a poem of such high velocity that it reads like a sheet torn in two. Clarke is a poet of innate lyricism and power, returning us to one of the ancient tasks of the poet: the castigation and correction of a society gone wrong.”