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“Failed” Local Journalist Wins 2024 Rose Post CNF Contest

Nikolai Mather, a Pittsboro native now in Wilmington, has won the 2024 Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition for his essay “Highway 17 (failing at local journalism).”

Mather will receive $1,000, and Ecotone will consider his essay for publication.

“I’m drawn to stories about essential jobs that are hard to keep doing—a situation reflected in the title ‘Highway 17 (failing at local journalism),'” final judge Belle Boggs said of Mather’s winning essay. “But this essay—nuanced, gripping, and honest—is as far from a failure as it gets. I hope to read more from this writer.”

Mather is a reporter for WHQR Public Radio in Wilmington, where he covers rural communities in the Cape Fear. His writing has also appeared in Teen Vogue, NPR, INDY Week, and Queen City Nerve. This is the first literary contest he has entered.

Boggs selected “The Diamond, Stolen in My Pocket” by Laurie Clark, another Wilmington writer, for second place, saying it “is a complex and moving story about grief, memory, and distance. I admired the writer’s delicate but unsentimental attention to reminders of her mother: a tiny orchid, an ink-stained striped shirt, a visiting scrub jay.”

Clark writes essays and cultural criticism through a Gen X lens, including work in Middlebury Magazine and The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review. Currently a second-year MFA candidate in creative nonfiction at UNCW and a staff member at Lookout Books, Clark is working on a publishing certificate and has served as an editorial assistant for Chautauqua Magazine. 

Asheboro’s Ashley Harris blocked the Wilmington sweep by taking third place with her essay “The Year of the Acorns,” which Boggs described as “a witty, moving essay by a curious, smart narrator. I loved the use of oak tree masting as metaphor for what’s too much, what can be handled, and the mysteries of nature and fate.”

Harris lives in southwestern Randolph County, surrounded by the Uwharrie Mountains. She is a regular contributor to Healthline Media and has written on topics such as gardening, self-care, and writing while living with MS. She has also written for the North Carolina Literary Review, Poets & Writers, and Real Simple, and is the author of a poetry collection, Waiting for the Wood Thrush (Finishing Line Press 2019). She is currently working on a memoir of linked essays exploring love, faith, and serenity while living with a chronic illness.

Final judge Belle Boggs is the author of The Art of Waiting: On Fertility, Medicine, and Motherhood; Mattaponi Queen, a collection of linked stories set along Virginia’s Mattaponi River; and The Gulf (a novel). The Art of Waiting was named a best book of 2016 by O the Oprah MagazinePublishers WeeklyKirkus, the Globe and Mail, and Buzzfeed, and was a finalist for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay. Mattaponi Queen won the Bakeless Prize, the Library of Virginia Literary Award, and was a finalist for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. Boggs’s work has been supported by fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the North Carolina Arts Council, and her stories and essays have appeared in The New York TimesThe Paris Review, Harper’sOrionPloughsharesEcotoneThe Atlantic, and other publications. She teaches in the MFA program at North Carolina State University and lives near the Haw River in North Carolina with her family.

Sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network, and administered by the creative writing department at UNC Wilmington, the Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition encourages the creation of lasting nonfiction work that is outside the realm of conventional journalism. The contest is open to any legal resident of North Carolina or member of the NC Writers’ Network.

Rose Post worked for the Salisbury Post for fifty-six years as a reporter, feature writer, and columnist. She won numerous state and national awards for her writing and earned the NC Press Women’s top annual award four times. She received the O. Henry Award from the Associated Press three times, the Pete Ivey Award, and the School Bell Award for educational coverage. Nationally, she won the 1989 Ernie Pyle Award, the Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award for human-interest writing, and the 1994 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Award.

The nonprofit North Carolina Writers’ Network is the state’s oldest and largest literary arts services organization devoted to writers at all stages of development. For additional information, visit