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Award-winning writers Nikky Finney and Pam Durban to judge 2016-17 annual SC High School Writing Contest

Two nationally recognized writers from South Carolina will judge the 2016-17 South Carolina High School Writing Contest. Pam Durban, an Aiken native whose novels and short stories have won critical acclaim, and Nikky Finney, a Conway native whose “Head Off & Split” won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2011, will co-judge the contest.

“We are delighted to have two writers of this caliber judge our contest,” said Steven Lynn, dean of the South Carolina Honors College and contest founder. “Our state is full of talented young writers, and it is wonderful for them to have judges of this renown read their work.”

Durban, whose novel “So Far Back” received the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Fiction and whose short story collection “Soon” won the Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction (with its title story also having been included in “The Best American Short Stories of the Century”), is the Doris Betts Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Finney is the author of four books of poetry, and holds the John H. Bennett, Jr., Chair in Creative Writing and Southern Letters at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Durban and Finney follow the late novelist Pat Conroy, state poet laureate Marjory Wentworth, and lowcountry novelist Mary Alice Monroe as contest judges.

“South Carolina has so many successful and distinguished writers, and they’ve been generous to share their time fostering our future writers through this contest,” said Jonathan Haupt, director of the University of South Carolina Press, which co-sponsors the contest with the Honors College. Other presenting partners include the newly formed Pat Conroy Literary Center in Beaufort, and Young Palmetto Books, an educational children’s and young adult book series managed by USC Press and the South Carolina Center for Children’s Books and Literacy. Through Young Palmetto Books, USC Press also publishes a series of books titled “Writing South Carolina” that collects the writings of each year’s winners and finalists. Each book’s foreword is written by that year’s judge or judges. 

In its fourth year, the contest is open to all high school juniors and seniors in South Carolina, in public, private, and home schools. Students are asked to answer one question—“How can we improve the state of South Carolina?”—in 750 words or less. Students may respond in the genre of their choice—poetry, fiction, essay, or drama. Finalists are invited to the USC campus in Columbia for a second round of competition, during which they take a second, timed, writing test responding to an impromptu topic.

First-place winner in the senior class receives $1,000 and the Walter Edgar Award, funded by SCHC alumnus Thad Westbrook and named for his professor, the South Carolina historian and writer. First-place in the junior class receives $1,000 and the Dorothy Skelton Williams Award, funded by an anonymous donor and named for the late upstate public school educator. Second- and third-place winners in the junior and senior classes receive $500 and $250, respectively.

“I taught college freshmen for many years, and I’ve learned our young people have interesting things to say,” said Lynn, who has published books on Samuel Johnson, on critical theory, on the history of rhetoric and composition, and on writing strategies. “These students are our future leaders, and it’s important to understand their viewpoints. They could have solutions—or the seeds to solutions—to the problems we are facing now and in the future.”

Deadline for submissions is December 2. For more information, visit or contact the contest coordinator, Aïda Rogers, at