Winners Named in City of Literature Student Essay Contest

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 five high school students from across Iowa.

The winning essay was “The Effects of Fog at Dusk,” by Kenna Prottsman, a student at Iowa City High School. In recognition of her essay, Kenna will receive one year of free tuition to the University of Iowa, offered in partnership with the UI.

In the essay, she writes about how her hometown changed as its residents dealt with the emerging coronavirus pandemic, while the aspects of nature and weather remained untouched by the health crisis. 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, Kenna does this by noting the humid air and the reflected light as she walks through town after a rain, recounting memories from a time of “shining faces and laughter that rings empty across the sidewalks.”

The essays were judged by a team from ACT in Iowa City. Commenting on Kenna’s essay, the team praised the way she described her city, not shying away from the stressful realities of the pandemic while also evoking its beauty.

“Kenna’s essay recounts an early spring evening’s walk through an unnaturally quiet and closed-down city in the midst of a pandemic. With meticulous and vivid sensory detail, the author brings to life not only the city’s hushed present, but also its vibrant past, and her faith in the continued resilience of her hometown and its residents.”

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.

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

  • Connor DeGroote, Cedar Falls High School
  • Kufre Ituk, Liberty High School (North Liberty)
  • Samantha Kidgren, Carroll Community High School
  • Tailor Varner, North Scott High School (Eldridge)

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 five AEAs, students in only four of these areas were recognized.

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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