Winners named in City of Literature student essay contest

Iowa City student wins top prize of a free year at the University of Iowa; runners up from Anamosa, Ankeny, Dike, Dyersville, Murray, and Spencer

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 seven high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “The Call of the Creek,” by Elizabeth Ayers, a student at Iowa City High School in Iowa City. In recognition of her essay, Elizabeth will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about finding solace in a creek near her home, recounting a day spent hiking along and through the creek and highlighting the things she found. 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, Elizabeth does this, remarking on the sunlight shimmering off the water and the “woodblock carving sound” of a woodpecker at work.

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

“The focused time-frame and location of Elizabeth’s essay provides a sense of when and where the author is,” they wrote. “Those details, along with more common sensory descriptions, are effective in transporting the reader into the writer’s experience.”

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.

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

Alysa Fettkether, Dike-New Hartford
Roger Mason Bundridge, Murray Community Schools
Calvin DeWitte, Anamosa High School
Bridgette Browning, Ankeny High School
Evan Schlarmann, Beckman Catholic High School
Grace Hamilton, Spencer High School

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 three AEAs, students in only six 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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