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Two Columbia University Students Capture Nation's Only Awards to African-American College Writers

Two students in Columbia University's Master of Fine Arts Program have captured first and third prize in the 1997 Hurston/Wright Awards, the nation's only award for fiction by emerging African-American college writers. The awards were presented recently in a ceremony at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), which has been the headquarters of the Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Foundation for three years. Nelly Rosario of Brooklyn took first prize for excerpts from Behind the Cellophane, a collage of images of her Afro-Dominican family's life in New York City. She received $1,000 and her excerpt will be published in New Virginia Review. Douglas E. Jones, also from Brooklyn, took third place and $250 for an excerpt of his novel "Shades of Grey," in which he detailed a young man's confirmation of his heritage after his single mother's death. (Second prize winner was April Reynolds of Sarah Lawrence and fourth prize winner was Crystal I. Drake of Hollins College.) The awards were created in 1990 by the novelist and professor Marita Golden as a means of encouraging African-American college students to pursue creative writing. Three years later, competition for the award, which is administered by VCU (where Golden teaches), was opened to black writers enrolled in any college. The contest is an opportunity, said Ms. Golden, to "recognize the next generation of writers at a point in their careers where encouragement is crucial." The winners were chosen from 40 works submitted by undergraduate and graduate students across the country; judges for this year's competition were William Henry Lewis, a 1994 Hurston/Wright recipient who is now on the faculty of Mary Washington College; Janet Peery, a novelist and faculty member at Old Dominion University; and Patricia Perry, assistant professor at VCU. The awards and the foundation through which they are presented are named in honor of the African-American novelists and intellectuals Zora Neale Hurston, a luminary of the Harlem Renaissance, and Richard Wright, who witnessed and participated in most of the major political movements of the 20th century. The foundation has received praise and support from both publishers and writers, and its advisory board includes Henry Louis Gates, Jr. This summer, July 20-26, the Hurston/Wright Foundation will host its annual writers' workshop at VCU, offering classes in poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction/autobiography. The Writing Division at Columbia University's School of the Arts is a creative community of master teachers and gifted student writers, and is dedicated to helping each student find and develop a distinct voice and vision. Students may concentrate in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry as they pursue the M.F.A. degree. The Division regularly invites writers, editors, publishers, agents and other literary professionals to participate in seminars, lectures, panels, and informal discussions. Recent visitors and faculty include Maureen Howard, Mary Gordon, Peter Carey, Richard Howard, Randall Kenan, Stephen Koch, Brad Morrow, and Rebecca Goldstein. Graduates of the Division are novelists, short story writers, poets, nonfiction writers, translators, editors, publishers, critics and teachers. 4.29.97 19,103