Paul Engle essay contest now open to Iowa high school sophomores

The City of Literature organization’s annual Paul Engle: Glory of the Senses high school sophomore essay contest is now open to submissions.

The contest seeks essays from current Iowa high school sophomores, and is inspired by the writings of Paul Engle, a long time director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI’s International Writing Program.

In his autobiography A Lucky American Childhood, Paul Engle describes his Iowa upbringing and how it helped him to grow from the son of a horse trainer in the heartland to a poet and professor of international reputation.   More than merely keeping a record of locations and events, Engle uses sensory detail to evoke his experience, to recreate it for the reader.

 In the chapter entitled “The Glory of the Senses”, Engle addresses each of the senses in turn to bring to life the Iowa of his youth.  He revels in “the smell of wood and coal [that] burned the kitchen air” and the “healthy sound … of a horse’s broad teeth grinding grain”, experiences that were common to a young person growing up at the beginning of the twentieth century in Iowa.  He recalls the accents of the Czech, German, Irish, and Russian immigrants whose “speech had not yet become homogenized by radio and television…trying hard to communicate with these strange Americans,” sounds that mirrored the combination of heritages that comprise the American quilt.  As he watches the spectacle of a cattle drive down Fifth Avenue in Cedar Rapids, the animals “snorting, frightened of the city, tossing their horns, trampling the lawns, a furious animal force…,” Engle says he “learned from them, as I watched their massive motion, the power of mass,” as the “thousand-pound beef animals look at you with their oval, liquid eyes…”

 The contest asks students to consider their own Iowa experience, and to write an essay in which they choose a single, specific Iowa memory to write into life using details that evoke the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch of that memory.

The author of the essay judged by reviewers to be the best will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa. A select number of runners up will receive a $500 scholarship from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature.

 Essays may be submitted to the competition by emailing them as an MSWord attachment on or before May 15, 2015 to Please put “Paul Engle Day Student Essay Contest submission” in the subject line. All submissions must include the cover sheet found on p. 6 of this packet.

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