Rappahannock Community College’s Rappahannock Institute for Lifelong Learning (RILL) recently learned that several students were winners in a national literary competition. Ilona Duncan of Heathsville, Sarah Collins Honenberger and Shari Dwyer both of Tappahannock, were named winners in the 2020 Soul-Making Keats Literary Competition in San Francisco. 

This outreach program of the National League of American Pen Women (NLAPW) is beginning its third decade of inviting writers everywhere, to address soul-making in innovative ways, based on a quote from John Keats. “Some say the world is a vale of tears, I say it is a place of soul-making.” Each category of the contest has a judge; and each judge has a page on the Soul Keats website which explains that category. Of the 13, two categories are designated exclusively for youth. RILL instructor, Gail Wilson Kenna, has been the judge for Creative Nonfiction since 2017. Kenna says the judging is blind, that only Eileen Malone, the director, knows the identity of hundreds of writers from around the United States and other countries. 

Dwyer took first place in the Religious category for her work titled, “Calling Me Home.” The essay recounts her journey to joining the Catholic Church—a journey that, at first, she thought began with an invitation and would end with her Confirmation. She discovered she was wrong. In the essay, she explores what went before, her readings and reflections along the way, and how she discovered that Confirmation was not the end, but the beginning of a longer journey. 

“I entered the contest not so much to win, but to create a deadline to finish something I’d begun and let languish for years,” said Dwyer. “Putting it to paper and sharing it with my family was a major win, but I have to say that winning a prize felt really good. I’m grateful to Gail Kenna for encouraging me, and to the writers who made the contest possible.”

Securing third place in the category for Memoir Vignette is Duncan for “The Little Crapaud.” Crapaud is French for toad or a piano slightly shorter than a regular baby grand. This is the story of Duncan’s piano, which she adopted—after multiple interviews as if adopting a baby—30 years ago in France, and how it eventually came to the Northern Neck. Now over 100 years old, her crapaud has a rich history with a connection to her daughter who died tragically. “My crapaud continues to bring joy and can elevate the spirit in times of sorrow,” said Duncan. The story also was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings contest.

Honenberger received Honorable Mention recognition in the Novel Excerpt category for “The Song of Silence.” Another area resident, Jane Tims of Kilmarnock, earned second place for “Morning Prayer” in the Humor category. According to Kenna, other RILL students have won awards in the Soul-Making Keats in past years, but four in one year sets a record. 

Yearly the deadline for mailed submissions is November 30, with winners announced in January. The awards ceremony held each spring at the Civic Center Library in San Francisco had to be canceled last March. This year, a ceremony will be held on the internet. Kenna, along with Duncan, Dwyer and Tims will participate in the March 21 Zoom event. 

Michele Inderrieden, program coordinator for the RILL program notes, “It is an honor to have RILL students receive national recognition for their writing. And exciting to interact with such talented students and teachers. We congratulate them on their awards.”

Information about the Soul-Making Keats competition can be found at www.soulmakingcontest.us. For details on upcoming RILL classes, visit www.rappahannock.edu/lifelong-learning.