Meet the 2017 Maurice Hodgson Award winners
By Cheryl Minns, Senior Columnist
The Douglas College Creative Writing Department released its latest anthology of student writing at the Pearls 36 launch this March. The event included student author readings and the presentation of the Maurice Hodgson Award, a scholarship named after the late founder of Pearls. This year’s winners, Blake Rayment and Hannah Ewing, tied for first-place and both received gold awards.
“It is always difficult to rank gold and silver awards, but this year, for the first time, we felt that two students, Blake and Hannah, were equally deserving of gold,” said Glenda Leznoff, a Creative Writing instructor.
In the past, the $1,500 scholarship award was split between a gold recipient ($1,000) and a silver recipient ($500). For Rayment and Ewing, the scholarship was split into $750 each.
“I’ve had both students in several classes, and not only are they gifted writers, but they’re also keen, generous, and insightful participants in class,” Leznoff said. “I’m delighted to see them as co-winners.”
When Rayment enrolled in Douglas College, he tried a variety of classes before he discovered Creative Writing.
“They helped me find my own writer’s voice and sharpen it. They helped me be confident going into class knowing that I could write what I wanted to,” he said. “I got a few things published in Pearls, which was great.”
In 2014, he had two works published in Pearls 33: the horror story “A Chat in a Parking Lot,” and the play “Demon Steven,” which he read at that year’s book’s launch.
“A Chat in a Parking Lot” is one of Rayment’s favourite Pearls works, because the dark tale about a crime scene was a different style of writing for him.
“I went all out with it. At the end, there is an autopsy report and I did the pictures. I was able to take my story and make it seem real,” he said. “It was the first horror piece they put into Pearls.”
The play “Demon Steven” is an example of Rayment’s humorous writing style, as it follows a demonic seven-year-old who causes havoc for his human dad.
“It was for a playwriting class with Glenda,” he said. “She didn’t want any scripts with kids in them, because it gets too mushy. She didn’t want any supernatural stuff, because that’s overdone. So I specifically went home and wrote a script about a demon child. Then she ended up publishing it.”
“Blake has tremendous comedic talents in scriptwriting and prose,” Leznoff said.
Pearls 34 featured his play, “Barry’s Retreat,” which he read at the 2015 launch. At the Pearls 36 launch, he read “Stoned,” a painfully funny personal narrative story that documents his experience of passing a kidney stone at age 12.
“Tragedy/comedy is my mantra,” he said. “Make it funny and then people will connect in a more intimate way.”
During his time at Douglas College, Rayment enrolled in almost every creative writing course available, maintained a 3.8 GPA, and completed an Associate of Arts in Creative Writing.
“To get into Pearls again for my last semester and win the Maurice Hodgson Award was a nice little send off,” he said.
Ewing began her academic journey at Douglas College in a very different field from where she eventually ended up.
“I was going for psychology,” she said. “Writing was always something I was interested in, but I didn’t think I could do it as a career.”
After studying psychology, Ewing decided to take a few years off to figure out her academic interests.
“I did a lot of travelling and I moved to Montreal for a little while,” she said. “While I was there, I read this book called A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers. His writing style was just so interesting to me. I thought, ‘I could do this. I want to do this.’”
Ewing returned to Douglas College and entered the Creative Writing program, where she began developing her writing and editing skills.
“Being in the workshop setting is so helpful,” she said. “It teaches you how to think critically about other people’s work, and about your own work, and how to go back and self-edit, which I think is a super important skill for writers.”
“Hannah’s strengths include her keen observation of interpersonal relationships, her natural first person voice, and her poetic language,” Leznoff said.
“When I write short fiction, I always want to think about people and their relationships and how they express themselves,” Ewing said. “I always find those kinds of areas interesting: how people see situations differently, how they react differently, and how we’re all able to come together and find common ground.”
At the Pearls 36 launch—after winning the Maurice Hodgson Award—Ewing read her short story, “Everything Seems Easy at First,” which is about a girl struggling to connect with her friend after a death.
“Winning the award was such an honour. To be recognized by the faculty legitimized the whole experience,” she said. “I was a little choked up when I went up there because I accepted the award first and then I had to read and my eyes were full of tears.”
In September, Rayment and Ewing will both be attending the University of Wales to complete a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing.
“It’s a really seamless transition, because the University of Wales and Douglas have a relationship,” Ewing said. “It’s been pretty cool applying and getting ready for it, because all of the faculty have been helping us and everybody is really onboard.”