Glory of the Senses essay contest winners announced

The Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization has completed judging for this year’s Paul Engle Day: Glory of the Senses Essay Contest, and will award scholarships to six high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “A Walk in the Woods,” by Lydia Hecker, a student at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. In recognition of her essay, Lydia will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about a mushroom hunting expedition by her family. At first reluctant to go, she begins to notice the sights and sounds around here, and soon discovers the inter-connectedness of nature. The contest asks students to pay special attention to include details that evoke the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch, capturing the day with all five senses. In her essay, Hecker does this, remarking on the feel of tree bark and the melodic sounds of birdsong.

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Lydia’s essay, the team praised the use of detail and description.

“Lydia’s essay captures both physical sense and the sensation of belonging with its account of a family tradition,” they wrote. “Her words tell a story that makes intentional use of organization, characterization, and sensory description, drawing the reader into both moments of experience and fond, personal memories.”

The contest and an accompanying weeklong curriculum distributed to all high schools in Iowa are based on the writings of Paul Engle – the long-time director of the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI’s International Writing Program – particularly his memoir, A Lucky American Childhood.

Five runners up from around the state will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature. The runners up are:

  • Victoria Harrison, Ankeny
  • Reagan Linder, Cedar Rapids
  • Natalee Lyons, Denver
  • Christina Mueggenberg, Spencer
  • Emma Squiers, Dyersville

The contest is designed to recognize sophomores from each of Iowa’s nine Area Education Agencies, which cover the state. This year, due to a lack of suitable submissions from four AEAs, students in only five of these areas were recognized.

All prize winners will be recognized this fall at an event in Iowa City.

For more information about Paul Engle and the ways in which the City of Literature celebrates his life and work through this contest, please visit

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