Christine Starr Davis has been named the recipient of the Emerging Writer Award for the upcoming Great Plains Writers’ Conference. The conference will be held March 23-25 at South Dakota State University.The Great Plains Writers’ Conference, which was founded in 1976 at SDSU, initiated its Emerging Writer Prize in 2013 to support and showcase up-and-coming literary talent in the Upper Great Plains region.
“We want to help new writers from the area gain attention both within and beyond it,” said SDSU assistant professor of English Steven Wingate, who coordinates the conference and the prize program. “We want to create a forum that will help Great Plains writers work toward their first book and launch their careers.”
Following the guidelines of the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, judging for the competition was done blindly; readers had no identifying marker indicating the identity of those who entered. The award is sponsored by Oakwood, SDSU’s literary and arts journal.
“Christine Starr Davis’ lines burst open on the page and spill forth insight into daily life and childhood memories,” wrote one of the competition’s judges. “She conveys exacting imagery with an exquisite control of line, a pacing of tension that leaves a reader breathless as the poem closes.”
Starr Davis is an adjunct professor at Doane College in Crete, Neb., and mentors gifted writers for the Lincoln Public Schools.
“I think prizes like this galvanize professional writing as a whole,” she said. “I mean, in a sense, all writers win when one of us is singled out for recognition. Writing as a laudable pursuit wins. I’m grateful to South Dakota State University for establishing the prize. To be the lucky one this time, and a poet too, puts me in the company of so many fine writers who have had the thrill of a YES! like this.
“It is exhilarating to have one’s creative self noticed and hoisted up for others to consider, and it’s intimidating, too,” continued Starr Davis, noting her husband has a cell-phone video of her reaction when notified of the win. “It is, of course, a huge and welcome affirmation of my progress as a writer, an answer to many earnest attempts at ‘Hello? Have I captured something that matters or rings true?’ There is so much to apprehend in a writing life, so much that begs attention and expression. I pull a thread, as I think all writers do, and hope that I have chosen a strand that could transport or alter a reader, one that merits being tugged.”
Starr Davis has had work published in more than a dozen journals, as well as in anthologies and e-zines and has several anthologies in progress. She was nominated for a 2009 Best New Poets honor and a 2010 Pushcart Prize in addition to being a finalist for the Washington Prize in 2009.
“My career? It can’t hurt!” responded Starr Davis when asked if she thought the GPWC award could boost her career. “Seriously, for better or worse, we respond enthusiastically to ‘winners’ in our culture don’t we? So, there will doubtless be folks who will now see me as a writer worth checking out. And this is the sort of thing that makes a writer’s nervous bone ache immediately after the jumping up and down part. But it is a necessary ache; the writing has to be peered at and poked.
“When you are starting out, you read the work of the ‘prize winners’ and ask yourself what is the shape of the ‘best’ poetry? You want to know this, believe you can know this,” she continued. “Maybe there will be a writer, or more than one, who finds in my work a seed, a life-giving jolt for their own work and that would be fantastic. If more happens, that would be something too.”
The book “Beautiful Joe” did just that for that Starr Davis.
“In my 20s, I returned to Swanson Library in Omaha, one of my childhood haunts, searching for a book I loved as a girl. The book was “Beautiful Joe,” written in 1893. Man, I was such a book nerd even then,” she said. “Anyway, I wanted to see the illustrations in “Beautiful Joe.” I pulled it from the shelf. No illustrations at all. Not one.
“The images I remembered had been drawn by Marshall Saunders’ words. That was defining for me,” continued Starr Davis. “Saunders had created something that in turn had created something in me. Incredible. So, the engine in my own writing is often an image, a moment, the precise smell or texture I want to offer up. I want to invite the reader to the place I’m mucking around and have their imagination complete mine. Does that sound creepy? I guess I would like to think that someone someday will pull a book of mine from the shelf and go searching for the illustrations I did not include. Or that they will hunt for a photograph or a memory they have misplaced and realize it was in fact a poem I wrote.”
For more information on Starr Davis, visit her website.