Going back to her roots inspired the 2016 Margaret Harvin Wilson Writing Award winner and graduating senior Jessica McQuain to write her poem.
“That was my inspiration,” the double major in English/creative writing and Spanish from Centralhatchee, Georgia, said of her winning works “Southern Baptist.” “It’s that first building block of who I am.”
When McQuain wrote her poem for the competition, she simply wanted to write something to serve as a reminder of her life and where she came from. After years of taking part in the contest, McQuain’s work received the top honor just weeks before she graduates from Georgia College.
“This was my third time entering,” she said. “I think it’s a great way to start and get my work out there to see if it would stand up against the others.”
Her writings depict her background.
“I know how to keep that southern tradition alive,” she said. “I think that kind of groundedness, that kind of honesty and the fact that I don’t know all of the answers will be important in going forward.”
McQuain discovered her passion for writing in elementary school. Then, in high school her English teacher encouraged her to take a journalism class.
“I felt that the field wasn’t right for me, so I dabbled more and more in poetry, and I really liked the brevity and directness of poems,” she said. “It was really in the past couple of years that I found my place as a poet.”
To McQuain, writing poems comes naturally.
“Sometimes it’s therapeutic to write about something that I need closure on,” said McQuain. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I’m thinking until I write it, so there’s a type of discovery that happens.”
That self-discovery that she goes through each time she writes makes winning the award even more impactful for her.
“This award is significant to me,” she said. “Now, I will be able to buy my cap and gown for graduation. And, I’ve just recently became engaged so I would like to put some money aside. I want to say ‘thank you’ to the donors. It’s a great opportunity and just being recognized is huge. Plus, the prize money is really valuable to me right now.”
As McQuain waits for the results of a Fulbright Scholarship, she will work in Milledgeville, after graduation, write, then move to Europe and pursue graduate school.
The Margaret Harvin Wilson Writing Award finalists were Natalie Mau of Alpharetta, placing second for her poem “Her;” Lizzie Perrin of Canton, placing third for her drama “Turbulence;” and Boston Chandler of Kennesaw, placing fourth for her poem “Seeing Purple” and placing fifth for her short story “Liver and Onions.”
The Margaret Harvin Wilson Writing Award is presented annually to a Georgia College student who is currently enrolled in the arts, humanities, social sciences or physical sciences.
The award offers cash prizes, certificates of achievement and recognition of the top five candidates. It’s made possible by Margaret Harvin Wilson’s daughter Dr. Mary Sue Coleman.
This award was established in memory of Wilson, ’34, who was a first-generation college student. She finished in three years as an English major and French minor. Winning the short story contest with her works “Sympathy Speaks” gave her great confidence to become a teacher. Her three daughters, inspired by the importance of education in their parents’ lives, pursued careers in medicine, law and higher education.