2022 Travel Writing Contest Winners

6 June 2022

Congratulations to this year’s 2022 Travel Writing Contest Winners! 

  • 1st Place:  “Unclaimed Identities” by JoJo Zhang 
  • 2nd Place: “Voyages” by Miriam Chasnov
  • 3rd Place: “Oregon” by Phoebe Rose Ward
  • Honorable Mention: “Cathedral Cliffs” by Isabel Rameker
  • Honorable Mention: “Super Dark” by Sam Hiken

Special thank you to the Travel Writing Contest sponsors, Cross Cultural Studies, Dean of Students, Off-Campus Studies, The Center for Global and Regional Studies, and The Writing Center! 

Additionally, many thanks goes out to this year’s internal and external judges, as well as those who played important roles in putting the contest together, including our CGRS student worker, Becca Riess. Our external judge, Richard Terrill provided expert explanations on this year’s winners, which you can read below! Lastly, congratulations to the top five winners, your entries were a joy to read, thank you for sharing your adventures with us! 

1st Place: “Unclaimed Identities” by JoJo Zhang

This writer does so many things well.  There is economy in the story telling: The action here takes place in a single evening during study abroad in Paris. She is skilled at the turn of phrase that delights as it informs: old walls are “painted like eggshells crackling, crumbling, falling apart.” Her fellow travelers say “Let’s get Chinese’ as if we were choosing a flavour of Lays chips in the local Franprix.” Her greatest strength may be a willingness to accept contradiction in the world as she sees it, to be comfortable in not knowing, something common to travel. She confesses at one point she is “embarrassed just to be embarrassed. Without knowing why.”

This is a story not about finding one’s identity—a well-traveled subject by now — but accepting one’s identities, as the title foretells. From the vantage of  Paris, the writer can tell us that she is Chinese and speaks Chinese, yes; but also Canadian, a student who misses her “American” friends at Carleton, a Francophile and speaker of French. She is learning through travel that she need not always “blend in,” but that in people “a little difference shouldn’t amount to distance between each other, right?” She concludes of her stay in Paris, “I want to continue exploring and sharing the city with everyone else, and start discovering more within myself. Ultimately, I think that those are two parts of a whole.” I suspect this is a life journey many of her readers share.

2nd Place: “Voyages” by Miriam Chasnov

The first rule in writing personal narrative is to have a subject worth writing about. This essay, which concerns the relationship of the speaker to her father, with whom she shares a birthday, more than meets that requirement. The description of the father gives us a clear picture of his character. He reads his daughter a college essay each night at dinner while she’s writing her college apps. In a letter he tells her that “of course” he loves her… but he also likes her. This description  is both funny and sad at the same time. Sad because due to the pandemic and miles of separation–the father in Hong Kong where the family lives, the speaker in the US– 2021 marks the first year that the two spend their shared special day apart. The generational angle is deepened in that the speaker’s grandfather—the father’s father—has passed away in 2021, and then too the father was distanced from family, unable to attend the memorial.  The writer adds a further parallel by referencing the film Brooklyn, another story about separation by oceans. Like the speaker, the protagonist of that film is 20 years old.I very much admire the ambition of this assemblage. The writer almost pulls it off, and loose ends are not the greatest sin in CNF.  Readers know well not to trust the writer who ties up her endings too tightly. Given the complexity here, I would want to read what more this writer has to say in the next few pages.

3rd Place: “Oregon” by Phoebe Rose Ward

“And the moral of the story is….” That’s a convention of narrative writing that the creative nonfiction genre at its best avoids.  That “Oregon” avoids it so skillfully is a mark of the maturity of its writer.  In fact, one strength of this essay lies in what it doesn’t do. The essay is the story of a college distance runner on a team trip to Oregon when she learns of the death of her grandfather. She runs her race despite an illness and experiences a disconnect between the present moment and the vague notion, unremarked upon, that something in her family life has changed forever.  Wisely, she presents no memories of the goodness of the grandfather—the essay isn’t about him. There are no choked back tears or flashbacks to tender moments. Instead, the essay ends with a lovely description of a team run on the Oregon coast. The details are perfect. “The wind blew all of our ponytails in the same direction” is my favorite. There is imagery of mortality (riptides, water that’s “shockingly cold,” cormorants with no fear of drowning) versus imagery of life (“I wanted to drink the air,” she remarks.) There’s one person’s insignificance in the “grand” landscape: “It is so big and we are so small.” The reader senses, without being told, that the speaker has not yet processed what has befallen her.  Thus the writer subtly captures that moment that precedes the onset of grief.

Honorable Mentions: “Cathedral Cliffs” by Isabel Rameker and “Super Dark” by Sam Hiken