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Three North Carolinians, Network members all, took top honors in the 2018 Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition

Elaine Thomas of Wilmington won first prize for her essay, “Upper Outer Quadrant.” Thomas will receive $1,000, and Ecotone will consider her essay for publication. 

“‘Upper Outer Quadrant’ is stylish, observant, and thoughtful, a consideration of the human relationships that both cause and result from language—by which I mean all of them,” said final judge Benjamin Rachlin, author of the new book Ghost of the Innocent Man. “The essay moves readers to consider more deeply a vocabulary that most of us take for granted.  

Take for granted—a curious idiom, it occurs to me now,” Rachlin said. “To grant, meaning: to acknowledge as true. But also, to grant, meaning: to give as a gift. To take for granted. You can see what this essay has done to me. It’s an essay that squints carefully at words, that lifts each one and holds it to the ear, like a found seashell. It’s an essay that examines itself even as it unfolds, that—to borrow a phrase—makes ‘intimate strangers’ of us all.” 

Thomas, a North Carolina native, has had a career that spans journalism, technical writing, and higher education communications as well as hospital chaplaincy. She directed college communications offices and edited alumni magazines for St. Andrews University, Green Mountain College in Vermont, and Hampshire College in Massachusetts. She holds degrees from St. Andrews and Duke Divinity School, with additional creative writing study at Green Mountain and Goddard College.  

Virginia Ewing Hudson of Raleigh won second place for her essay, “Seven Swims in Falls Lake,” and will receive $300. 

“‘Seven Swims in Falls Lake’ is elegantly told and innovatively structured, a love letter not only to a place but to its inhabitants—human, plant, and animal; organic and invasive; expected and surprising,” Rachlin said. “The essay is as vibrant and dynamic as its setting.” 

Hudson teaches cello at Meredith College. She has won the 2017 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and The Woman’s Writing Award, and her work has been published in The Thomas Wolfe Review, Firefly Ridge Magazine, Wildflower Muse, and the Raleigh News and Observer. She studied at Interlochen Arts Academy, the University of Texas at Austin, and UNC School of the Arts. 

“Growing Up Ugly,” by Bahama’s Jane Shlensky, came in third. Shlensky will receive $200 in prize money. 

“‘Growing Up Ugly’ offers a moving series of contrasts,” Rachlin said. “An adult considers the child she once was. A scholar faces the unknowable. An independent thinker confronts a thoughtless collective. A political activist resolves for personal change. Yet the essay casts these conflicts not as liabilities but as opportunities. It makes one wonder: perhaps only by acknowledging limitations might a person also realize his or her potential.” 

Shlensky, a veteran teacher and musician, has recent poetry in a number of magazines and anthologies, including Writer’s Digest, Pinesong, Southern Poetry Anthology: NC, Kakalak, and Poetry Market. The North Carolina Poetry Society has twice nominated her poems for a Pushcart Prize, and her short fiction pieces have been finalists in the Press 53, Doris Betts, and Thomas Wolfe contests. Jane’s chapbook Barefoot on Gravel (2016) is available from Finishing Line Press.  

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. 

Benjamin Rachlin grew up in New Hampshire. He studied English at Bowdoin College, where he won the Sinkinson Prize, and writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he won Schwartz and Brauer fellowships. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Virginia Quarterly Review, TIME, Pacific Standard, Orion, LitHub, and Five Dials. His first book, Ghost of the Innocent Man: A True Story of Trial and Redemption, is available now from Little, Brown & Company. 

Ecotone’s mission is to publish and promote the best place-based work being written today. Founded at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 2005, the award-winning magazine features writing and art that reimagine place, and our authors interpret this charge expansively. An ecotone is a transition zone between two adjacent ecological communities, containing the characteristic species of each. It is therefore a place of danger or opportunity, a testing ground. The magazine explores the ecotones between landscapes, literary genres, scientific and artistic disciplines, modes of thought. 

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