Four employees have received accolades for their submissions to Princeton Writes’ inaugural essay contest, which was launched last fall to encourage and recognize outstanding writing on the part of University staff.
Marianna Bogucki, Ruth McGuire, Jamie Saxon, and Dana Sheridan were among 41 contestants, representing 29 academic and administrative units, who responded to the Selection Committee’s invitation to “describe an aspect of Princeton’s campus that often catches your attention.” In a pool of superlative essays, theirs most clearly, creatively, and compellingly addressed this topic, earning Bogucki the Princeton Writes Prize and McGuire, Saxon, and Sheridan honorable mentions.
Bogucki, Conference and Event Manager for Conference and Event Services, wrote about New South on an autumn day in her essay titled “November Light.” In her spare time, she often writes stories to entertain her coworkers, who enjoyed her writing so much that they encouraged her to enter the contest.
“I ended up writing about New South because I literally saw it one day in the sunset and saw how pretty it looked, and I found myself going back and trying to catch that moment of the day,” Bogucki said, recalling how she found her inspiration. “I was surprisingly very pleased with my finished product, which is why I am really happy that I am getting such good feedback from it.”
Bogucki said the contest inspired her to make a more conscious effort to write down ideas that would make good stories.
“It also gets me thinking how I can integrate writing into my work life more,” Bogucki said, “and helps me recognize that there is something different I can do, new I can do, that people would enjoy.”
Saxon, the Arts and Humanities Writer in the Office of Communications, earned an honorable mention. Of the four honorees, she is the only one who has had extensive experience in the editing and writing world.
In her untitled essay, Saxon wrote about her relationship with Richardson Auditorium in Alexander Hall after moving to Princeton with her parents from Stamford, Connecticut, at age 11. Saxon recalled that Richardson was an easy choice because the place combines both her love of music and her desire to capture a true sense of space.
“A couple of people said that it’s just so nice to learn a little personal history about me that they hadn’t known,” Saxon said, pointing out that the feedback she received has sparked new thoughts about her dream of writing a book in a memoir style.
“If you want to write, then actually schedule a point in your free time to write. Make it a priority,” Saxon said. “It doesn’t take a lot of time, but it makes you feel great.”
McGuire, another honorable mention recipient, is a Senior Bibliographic Specialist in the Princeton University Library. For the contest, she chose to write about Firestone Plaza, which she passed through every day when working in Firestone Library.
The essay, titled “In the Plaza,” is organized as a series of four snapshots and written in a conversational style. “I think I wanted to convey a voice because the essay was sort of addressed to you,” McGuire explained. “I didn’t want to sound didactic; I wanted to sound like I was talking to you, like I could hand you my phone and say, ‘Look, here are some pictures I took.’”
Having always thought of writing as a form of play, McGuire said that she was pleasantly surprised when she received the envelope informing her that her essay had won an award.
“It’s recognition that it was liked, that it was appreciated and understood, even though it was a little quirky,” McGuire said.
Sheridan’s essay, titled “5 a.m.,” also received an honorable mention. Sheridan works as the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Cotsen Children’s Library.
A working mother of two young children, Sheridan gets up at 4:45 a.m. every morning and runs at 5 a.m. a couple of days a week on campus. “That is the only time I can find in my life to carve out. I don’t have time during the work day, and after work, it’s a rush for dinner,” Sheridan explained.
Always pressed for time, Sheridan started writing as soon as the contest was announced and revisited the essay whenever she could. In order to capture a time on campus that people rarely know, she actively sought ways to describe the experience during her morning jogs, including learning all the names of buildings on campus that she didn’t previously know.
“I don’t think many people know that campus. It’s dark, and it’s quiet,” Sheridan said. “Everything is in a different shade, and everything sounds different.”
“It made the perfect day for me,” Sheridan said, speaking of the day she learned of her award. “This contest made me think about campus in a different way. It made me look at campus in a different way. And that’s important for writers, for anyone who wants to write – you make the ordinary extraordinary.”
All four honorees expressed their appreciation of the Princeton Writes program and hope to see the contest continue.
“There are a lot of people who don’t think of themselves as writers,” Bogucki pointed out, “and I am hoping that seeing me, who is not someone who writes for a living, will give them the idea that they can just put down their thoughts on next year’s topic and that they, too, can be writers.”
The topic of the 2015-2016 essay contest will be announced this fall, but not before all of this year’s contestants are feted in June. As Princeton Writes’ director, John S. Weeren, put it, “We have much to celebrate, for we really have not four but 41 winners – 41 members of our University community who had the courage and generosity to let us view the campus through their eyes.”
Story written by Sharon Deng ’17; photo setting courtesy of Professor of English Susan Wolfson.