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UIndy students gain real-world experience as Etchings Press announce Whirling Prize winner

Elizabeth Kate Switaj and her book cover

Etchings Press, the University of Indianapolis student-run publisher, has announced that Elizabeth Kate Switaj is the recipient of the Whirling Prize, an international literary prize that welcomes submissions of published books related to specific themes that change annually. This year’s prize, the 11th edition of the annual competition, focused on the theme of Mythology.

Elizabeth Kate Switaj was awarded the 2023 Whirling Prize for her poetry collection “The Bringers of Fruit: An Oratorio” (11:11 Press, 2022). Along with a $500 honorarium, Switaj was the focus of the UIndy Potluck Podcast episode and commemorative broadside poster.

Student judges honored Gwen E. Kirby’s debut story collection “Shit Cassandra Saw” (Penguin Books, 2022) as a finalist in the 2023 contest.

For more than a decade, the Whirling Prize has been judged exclusively by University of Indianapolis students in ENGL 479: Etchings Press as a way to connect students with contemporary literature and teach them literary analysis, judging and communication skills in a high-stakes, real-world experience. This year’s panel was composed of Abigail Bailey ‘25 (Secondary education and English), Emma Bond ‘26 (Professional writing), Olivia Cameron ‘24 (Creative writing and professional writing), Camille Dobbs ‘25 (Professional writing), Sierra Durbin ‘24 (Creative writing), Amber Phillips ’26 (English), and E. Alexander Phillips-Hedge ‘23 (Professional writing).

Broadsheet from Whirling Prize winner

“The student judges explored and engaged with Mythology in varied ways fall semester and ended the competition with a greater appreciation of the nuances of the genre, after having the opportunity to read the contest entries. It was an excellent learning experience,” said Liz Whiteacre, advisor of the 2023 Whirling Prize.

The broadside celebrating Switaj’s book was designed by UIndy artist Sierra Durbin (’24). Switaj joined student judges in conversation on Episode 1, Season 6 of the UIndy Potluck Podcast, whose audio was edited by UIndy Music Major Nicolas Flowers. It was just released May 22 on Spotify. For updates, follow @uindyetchings on Instagram as well as Facebook.

“The questions the students came up with for the podcast helped me see my work, as well as its source material, in a new light,” said Switaj. “Those aspects will influence the work I generate moving forward.”

“Switaj combines the ancient with the contemporary, demonstrating her knowledge of the source mythology yet making it feel brand new,” said judge Olivia Cameron. “Switaj packs so much information and emotion into a singular poem without overwhelming the reader. These are poems that can be visited and annotated time and time again. These poems beautifully capture the multitudes that Persephone holds as a bringer of life and a ruler of the dead, the daughter of nature and wife of decay. Her story is full of contradictions and imperfections, much like any female in that transition from girlhood to womanhood. The Bringers of Fruit is astounding, sophisticated, and beyond worthy of the Whirling Prize.”

About Elizabeth Kate Switaj

Elizabeth Kate Switaj’s second full-length collection of poetry, “The Bringers of Fruit: An Oratorio” (11:11 Press, 2022) won the 2023 Whirling Prize. Her next collection, “At (Ghost) Depth,” is forthcoming from Mouthfeel Press, and her sequence, “The Articulations,” is forthcoming as part of a tête-bêche from Kernpunkt Press on November 12, 2024. Originally from Seattle, she currently works at the College of the Marshall Islands on Majuro Atoll.

About Gwen E. Kirby

Gwen E. Kirby and her book cover

Gwen E. Kirby hails from San Diego and is a proud graduate of Carleton College. She has an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and a PhD from the University of Cincinnati. Currently, she is the Associate Director of Programs and Finance for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South, where she also teaches creative writing. Kirby is author of the story collection “Shit Cassandra Saw”. Guest editor Aimee Bender selected her story “Shit Cassandra Saw…” for Best Small Fictions 2018, and it also appears in the 2018 Wigleaf Top 50. Her stories appear in One Story, Tin House, Guernica, Mississippi Review, and elsewhere.

“Gwen E. Kirby’s “Shit Cassandra Saw” is a vibrant collection of short stories that made me laugh out loud,” said judge Sierra Durbin. “Kirby’s use of language is bold and descriptive. She is not afraid to say what is on her mind. Flipping the stereotype of women using pepper spray on men to men spraying cans of Raid on cockroach women is exactly the kind of story young women need to hear during a time when their voices need to be heard. The stories were unique, fun to read, and demonstrated feminist themes with characters navigating womanhood in the modern world.”

Call for 2024 Whirling Prize entries

Student judges welcome books published since January 2022 of any genre and topic in response to the theme of debut books for the 2024 Whirling Prize. Student judges in ENGL 479 are excited to review author’s first books of prose, poetry, hybrid, etc. this fall. The deadline for submissions is September 6, 2024. Details may be found on the Etchings Press website.