We Alaskans

Alaska's Creative Writing Contest winners

Today we publish winning work in the 34th annual creative writing contest sponsored by the University of Alaska and Alaska Dispatch News.

Around 500 entries were received from across the state. Our top pick was "Dual Citizenship" by Justine Pechuzal of Seward, a memoir about her quirky French aunt. As the Grand Prize winner, Pechuzal receives $200.

Hannah Watkins of Anchorage received $100 as the winner of the Editor's Choice. Watkins' poem, "The Field," is a reflection on respect and how people treat one another told in a style that suggests rap lyrics; try reading it out loud.

Winners of the grades K-2 and 3-6 each received $25, and $50 went to each of the winners in the other categories.

Space is limited for what we can print. But additional winners can be read at litsite.org.

Congratulations to the winners and all the other Alaskans who took the time and effort to submit their best work to Alaska's longest-running annual writing competition.

Grand Prize 


"Dual Citizenship," by Justine Pechuzal, Seward

[Read the winner: "Dual Citizenship" by Justine Pechuzal]

Editor's Choice

"The Field," by Hannah Watkins, Anchorage

[Read the winner: "The Field" by Hannah Watkins]

K-2 story

– First: "The Higor is Back" by Fiona Gehrke, home-schooler, Anchorage

– Honorable mentions: "Fixxula and Wolfam," by Harris Anderson, Chugach Optional Elementary School, Anchorage; "The Runaway Dogs," by Sage Smith, Chugach Optional, Anchorage

Fiction 3-6

– First: "A Friend from the Woods," by Mesa Smith, Begich Middle School, Anchorage

– Honorable mentions: "A Day in the Life of Summer," by Annemarie Van Couwenberghe, Kincaid Elementary School, Anchorage; "Mushroom, An Autobiography," by Victor Romanko, West Homer Elementary School, Homer; "The Journey of a Salmon," by Quinn Rice, Machetanz Elementary School, Palmer

Fiction 7-9

– First: "A Most Peculiar Alarm Clock," by Claire Engstrom, Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School, Juneau

– Honorable mention: "Guitar-Wielder," by Jacob Hersh, Service High School, Anchorage

Fiction 10-12

– First: "Rekindle by Sophie Verbrugge," Polaris K-12, Anchorage

– Honorable mentions: "Best Excuse Note Ever," by Michaela Hack, I.D.E.A., Ketchikan; "The Woman at the Post Office," by Autumn Baker, Connections Homeschool Program, Homer


Fiction Open to Public

– First: "Story Knife," by Warren Rhodes, Anchorage

[Read the winner: "Story Knife" by Warren Rhodes]

– Honorable mentions: "Between Here and There," by Melanya Berg, Anchorage; "The Great Fox Caper," by Steve Harrison, Talkeetna

Nonfiction 3-6

– First: "Kevin Bell," by Casey Otis, West Homer Elementary School, Homer

– Honorable mentions: "Hawaiian Adventure," by Ruby Dahl, Kassun Elementary School, Anchorage; "The Greatest Empire," by Jacob Milligan, home-schooler, Seward

Nonfiction 7-9


– First: "The Day He Left," by Clare Kays, Wasilla

– Honorable mentions: "Ramblings of a Little Boat on a Big Sea," by Carmen Gordon-Rein, Central Middle School, Anchorage; "A True Alaskan Story," by Jaidyn Makos, Dimond High School, Anchorage; "Courage is the Key," by Madison Blackburn, Stikine Middle School, Wrangell

Nonfiction 10-12

– First: "Story of My Summer Camp Failure," by Michaela Hack, I.D.E.A., Ketchikan

– Honorable mentions: "Feminism: Getting Back to Its Roots," by Danielle DuClos, Dimond High School, Anchorage; "The Accident," by Lara Suscha, Lathrop High School, Fairbanks; "Time," by Quinn White, West High School, Anchorage

Nonfiction Open to Public

– First: "Dual Citizenship," by Justine Pechuzal, Seward

[Read the winner: "Dual Citizenship" by Justine Pechuzal]

– Honorable mentions: "Dream of Fish," by Jennifer Baker, Wasilla; "The Addiction of Berry Picking," by Barbara Gazaway, Anchorage

Poetry K-2

– First: "Trees," by Chloe Farrell, Anchor Lutheran School, Anchorage

– Honorable mentions: "Pink Bear," by Olivia Gatewood, home-schooler, Eagle River; "Me," by Sage Smith, Chugach Optional, Anchorage;  "The Beach," by Sage Smith, Chugach Optional, Anchorage


Poetry 3-6

– First: "Eagle," by Coral Mercer, Eagle River Open Optional, Eagle River

– Honorable Mentions: "Harriet Tubman," by Saylor Hack, I.D.E.A., Ketchikan; "Piano Perfection," by Anna DeVolld, Connections Homeschool Program, Soldotna; "The Grand Slam," by Seamus McDonough, West Homer Elementary School, Homer

Poetry 7-9

– First: "Where Am I From," by Alexandria Ivanoff, Unalakleet School, Unalakleet

– Honorable Mentions: "Sassy Be Like," by Talya Edgerley, Randy Smith Middle School, Fairbanks; "We Let Go," by Talya Edgerley, Randy Smith Middle School, Fairbanks; "Who I Am," by Allison Wayt, South Anchorage High School, Anchorage


Poetry 10-12

– First: "The Field," by Hannah Watkins, Service High School, Anchorage

– Honorable mentions: "Dear Yesterday," by Raven Sikes, Burchell High School, Wasilla; "Three More Months," by Kyah Ellefson, Bartlett High School, Anchorage; "Unearthed," by Kathleen Shaw, Dimond High School, Anchorage; "What If," by Christian Rehe, Colony High School, Palmer

Poetry Open to Public

– First: "Meditation on an Artifact," by Stuart Ravn, Anchorage

[Read the winner: "Meditation on an Artifact" by Stuart Ravn]

– Honorable mentions: "Almost One," by Rudy Wittshirk, Willow;  "Life Halo," by Chris Greenfield-Pastro, Fairbanks


Teresa Ascone, Aisha Barnes, Dianne Barske, Anna Bjartmarsdottir, Tricia Brown, Anita Dale, Kristin DeSmith, Sherry Eckrich, Patience Frederiksen, Christina Gheen, Shannon Gramse, Jana Gwynn, Trish Jenkins, Mary Kancewick, Sarah Kirk, Nicole Lamb, Alyse Knorr, Marie Lundstrom, Roger Miller, Michelle Mitton, Micah Muer, Cameron Nay, Roseanne Pagano, Elise Patkotak, Kate Partridge, Emily Paul, Lorelei Sterling, Rayette Sterling, David Stevenson, Carol Sturgulewski, Lila Vogt, Hillary Walker, Louise Dekreon Watsjold, Mark Weber, Toby Widdicombe

Grand Prize judges

Mike Dunham, Alaska Dispatch News; Sara Juday, Alaska Center for the Book; Ronald Spatz, University of Alaska Anchorage

Volunteer coordinators

Alaska Center for the Book and UAA

Mike Dunham

Mike Dunham was a longtime ADN reporter, mainly writing about culture, arts and Alaska history. He worked in radio for 20 years before switching to print. He retired from the ADN in 2017.