The Best of Volume VII

plain china Writing Awards


The plain china Writing Awards exist to highlight the very best of the best undergraduate writing published each year in our anthology, and to celebrate and honor the incredible talent and creativity of undergraduate writers across the country.

Each year, we bring in published authors, experts in their genres, to serve as judges for the Writing Awards by weighing in on our student editor nominations. Our awards look a bit different this year. Blindsided by the pandemic and overwhelmed with the move to an entirely remote editorial process, we decided to keep the awards and our judges entirely internal. Because our staff of student editors shifts from semester to semester, year to year, we thought it might be both fun and interesting for current student editors to judge pieces selected and published by their plain china predecessors.

This year, the plain china Writing Awards honor and recognize some of the amazing undergraduate writing we had the privilege of publishing last year. As we all self-quarantined, turning our lives into a series of Zoom meetings that lasted so much longer than we ever anticipated, we also watched the Black Lives Matter movement intensify in response to the senseless killings of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Locally, in Richmond, Virginia, we saw our city come together to tear down monuments to oppression. We were, to say the least, distracted.

But plain china student editors carried on throughout 2020, quietly publishing notable undergraduate writing that may not have received the attention and recognition it deserved upon publication. Some of that writing is represented here. It is our hope that, through these awards, we can once again draw your attention to the outstanding undergraduate fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction we have the privilege of reading each week as student editors of plain china. 

The 2019-2020 plain china Writing Award recipients are:


Selected by plain china fiction editors Raegan Ballard, Maya Charlton and Mikayla Servis

1st Place:

“A Liturgy of Hours,” by Jennifer Galvao, SUNY Geneseo, November 2019

“A Liturgy of Hours” first appeared in Gandy Dancer

2nd Place:

“Prairie Rust, Strawberry Lips,” by Erika Riley, Knox College, March 2020

“Prairie Rust, Strawberry Lips” first appeared in Quiver. 

From the fiction editorial team:

“‘A Liturgy of Hours’ portrays with empathetic and eloquent writing a story that we rarely get a chance to read in undergraduate work. The piece subtly crafts the character growth in an elderly nun who has taken a decades long vow of silence that hinders the reunion with the daughter she was forced to give up for adoption. It reveals universal themes of coming to terms with one’s past and adapting to an ever-changing present and future.”


Selected by plain china poetry editors Henok Berhane, Kaitlyn Harrison and Nicole Milanovic

1st Place:

“Artificial Tears,” by Anahita Sharma, University of Cincinnati, October 2019

“Artificial Tears” first appeared in Short Vine Literary Journal.

2nd Place:

“Let Her,” by Miguel Escoto, St. Edward’s University, November 2019

“Let Her” first appeared in Sorin Oak Review.

From the poetry editorial team:

“‘Artificial Tears’ provides a sense of vulnerable masculinity that is not often expressed within writing. This poem shows that healing is a moment-to-moment process and that trauma is not something meant to be ignored even when we cannot feel it for ourselves. By showing the father’s desperation to make himself cry in front of his children, Sharma pushes the reality of what it means to heal from abuse as an adult, and the level of tenderness it takes to show your children how to learn to feel again.”

Creative Nonfiction

Selected by plain china creative nonfiction editors Liza Hazelwood, Alex Jenkins and Autumn Lawson

1st Place:

“Hey Tray,” by Maurice Rippel, Haverford College, September 2019

“Hey Tray” first appeared in Milkweed.

2nd Place:

“Fragile Bones,” by Matt Hawkins, Columbia College Chicago, February 2020

“Fragile Bones” first appeared in Hair Trigger.

From the creative nonfiction editorial team:

“We selected ‘Hey Tray’ by Maurice Rippel because of its deep connection to Trayvon Martin and the way that the letter reinvents the essay. It functions uniquely as a creative nonfiction piece that is both extremely personal to the author that also speaks to a much larger context. Rippel’s voice is exceptional and shows the pain that he and many others feel. We thought that this piece is very relevant to today, and will continue to be relevant as time passes, until significant change is made.”

To this year’s Writing Award recipients: Congratulations from the entire plain china staff!

The Best of Volume VI