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Creative Writing Awards give York College students a chance to push their pen

Samantha Sabatini poses in front of a brick wall

Samantha “Joy” Sabatini ’20 has written hundreds of poems in journals, on her computer, and on scraps of paper she scatters and stores all over the place. Yet, writing them was always a “secret hobby” for the English (Literary and Textual Studies) major. “I have never been very vocal about my interest in poetry,” she says.

Last year, though, Sabatini decided to submit two pieces for the Mary Jane Diamond Award, a poetry contest facilitated by York College of Pennsylvania, and just one of many creative writing awards students can earn. The award was established in 2015 and is supported by the Academy of American Poets, which publishes the winning poem.

“I think poetry is all about being real and writing down what we have a hard time saying out loud,” Sabatini says. “Poetry gives us this quiet, vacant space to expose our hearts and seek understanding through our written words, as well as through feedback and reactions.”

Personal reflections

The first poem Sabatini submitted in 2019 that won was about a failed friendship. “I forgot how much it means to show people you care by just randomly texting them or popping in and just letting them know how valuable they are to your life and wellbeing,” she says. “I was so regretful about my actions and losing the friendship that I wrote a really long poem about it.”

The second poem she submitted was even more personal and reflected on Sabatini’s relationship with her older brother, Paul, who has autism, bipolar disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. “It can be very challenging to juggle the complex relationship I have with my brother,” she says. “But, nevertheless, I love Paul very much, and he will always be my precious brother.”

Since graduating, Sabatini has been working as a Court Reporter for Sargent’s Court Reporting, Inc., and she hopes to one day publish a complete book of poetry. “Humanities majors have a diverse amount of job opportunities available to them,” she says, “and that’s what makes the major so exciting.”

Additional awards

The Bob Hoffman Awards, generously supported by the Hoffman Foundation, have been given out annually to York College student writers for decades. The writing categories include fiction, nonfiction, poetry, screenwriting, and more.

Olivia Cottle ’21 has received a total of seven awards, including four in 2020. “The thing I get most out of the Hoffman Awards is not the winning, but the submitting,” she says. “Winning is cool, but I think the biggest benefit I get from it is writing in styles that I wouldn’t normally.”

The Professional Writing major sees herself developing as a writer each year and with each submission. And while Cottle believes the awards will look great on her résumé, she’s prouder of the body of work she’s creating. “My stories are different, but have a similar tone,” she says. “I’ve developed a voice over the years, and I not only see my work improving, but see myself developing as a person through the pieces I’ve crafted.”

In her short story, Terminal Velocity, Cottle wrote about three members of spaceship crew who try to entertain themselves with the locals, which allowed her to incorporate elements from a tabletop game she runs with friends.

In her flash fiction piece, To Whom it May Concern, Cottle was challenged to write a complete piece in less than 500 words. She wrote it in the form of a company email blast, using the premise of some “weird cult stuff” going on at the company that was covered up by a gas leak.

Piece after piece, Cottle found herself being stretched as a writer. Even the poetry she submitted, which she confesses “isn’t my thing,” pushed her to try something new. “The awards are a great opportunity to just jump into something unknown,” Cottle says. “I’m always grateful for that opportunity.”


Who won

The 2020 Mary Jane Diamond Poetry Award

1st Place: "Tu Me Manques" by Sam Sabatini

Runner-up: "The Mill" by Jon Lehr

The 2020 Bob Hoffman Writing Awards

Playwriting: 1st - “Killer Moves” by Olivia Cottle; 2nd - “Overthinking” by Beck Roman; 3rd - “Perfect Silence” by Charity Stump

Screenwriting: 1st - “Cold Case: Pilot” by Olivia Cottle; 2nd - “Super Safe at Home” by Dylan Landes; 3rd - “Old Wolf” by Jalil Dixon

Short Story: 1st - "Out of the East” by Eva Savil; 2nd - “Terminal Velocity” by Olivia Cottle; 3rd - “Writer’s Block” by Taylor Groft

Flash Fiction: 1st - “To Whom it May Concern” by Olivia Cottle; 2nd - “Crimson” by Alexis Czaplinski; 3rd - “Without the Big ‘O’ You’re Uterus Says No” by Jasmyn Rivers Green

Poetry: 1st - “Forward” by Samantha Rivers; 2nd - “King of Swords” by Alexis Czaplinski; 3rd - “Formal Living Room (Kingston, Jamaica)” by Grace-Ann Duncan

Creative Nonfiction: 1st - “My Brain: A Love Story” by James Avery Fuchs; 2nd - “10 Reasons to Never Pick Up a Bottle” by Ariel Mitchell; 3rd - “auto portraiture: a blank slate” by Jasmyn Rivers Green