Creative Writing Contest Winners Announced at National Poetry Month Celebration

© Western New Mexico University

The WNMU J. Cloyd Miller Library and the Humanities Department held the annual National Poetry Month celebration on Thursday, April 4, 2024. The winners of the WNMU Humanities Creative Writing Contest were announced at the event. Winning first place in both the poetry and prose categories was English major Brandon Lee Miller. Tying for second place in the poetry category were English major Ariana Zuniga and art major Felix Gutierrez. Winning second place in the prose category was art major Gabe Farley.

Presenters at the celebration included Miller Library Director Samantha Johnson, Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education/Spanish Gregory Robinson Guerra, Assistant Professor of English Heather Frankland, students from Frankland’s English 097 class, the WNMU Writer in Residence, JJ Amaworo Wilson, Outreach and Instruction Librarian Maddy Nittmo and the former poet laureates of Grant County.

Miller’s winning poem, “The Joys of Cycling,” focuses of the exhilaration of riding a bicycle. “I have been an avid cyclist for roughly seven years,” said Miller, “and I wanted to write a poem that summarized what my experience has been. Aside from being my main source of transport, I enjoy riding around town, particularly in the evenings. Silver City is a nice town to cruise in, with all the mountains, trees, and neighborhoods.”

Miller said it felt surreal to win the contest. “I never thought I would even become a writer,” he said. “When I first started this process back in 2017, it wasn’t a hobby or anything. It was therapy. I had a lot of fears and worries that I didn’t know how to express, so I bought a pen and journal from Walmart one day, wrote my first entry that night, and the rest is history.”

Miller added that his goal now is to be a professional writer, and he said that the contest affirmed his decision. “This contest gave me the chance to expose more of my material,” he said, “To be the winner of a writing contest, to be first place in both categories no less, is a testament to how far I’ve come. It feels like I’ve earned my place.”

Zuniga’s award-winning poem, “Ode to Praise,” also stems from her real-life experiences, especially her passion for music. “Music has always had such a massive place in my life and I cannot go a day without it,” she said. “Ever since I was a little kid, my mom would play popular music from her era and my brother introduced me to a lot of older songs as well.”

Like Miller, Zuniga said she felt affirmed by the award. “To have my writing recognized is an absolute honor especially because I wrote that ode of praise when I was in high school,” she said, “It also made me realize that maybe I’m not such a bad writer.”

All of the contest-winning works will be published in a forthcoming edition of the student-led journal The Maverick. Excerpts from each work are printed below.



From “The Joys of Cycling”

By Brandon Lee Miller


There is something about the way the wind passes by,

The adrenaline that course through my veins,

The exhilaration of drifting in my vessel,

Grazing through graveled pastures,

Journeying through all manner of twists and turns,

Highs and lows, ups and downs,

To the top of the highest hills,

All the way down to the lowest valleys

Of trenches, rivers, creeks, and troughs



From “Ode to Praise”

By Ariana Zuniga


If it’s to last

The getting of knowledge

Should be tangible

It should have a smell

As you lie on the bathroom floor

Seeing the world

Without your eyes



From “Realities Escape”

By Felix Gutierrez

Jordan grasp for the glasses and locks them in place. A black hole in darkness where light does not escape is what greets him. Turn on, he says, with the click of a button. Not once but twice the button is pressed, then he holds on to it with the slightest of pressure. Before his eyes the light swirls on. His hands flick up with excitement. He is ready to be swallowed into color and bright glow.

His avatar, his body has changed, wings crawl along his back as he shifts his eyes from side to side. He gets used to the shift in reality, as he moves with one step forward to this new world that he has not seen in quite a time. What he is welcomed to before him are bright skies with floating mountains and a soft tune from singing foothills.



From “Kid in a Candy Story”

By Brandon Lee Miller

I got to go to a casino for the first time in my life. I went with my father. It was an Indian casino on a reservation so there were a lot of natives and Latinos. We figured we stop there to make some extra cash, show me something different. I did say I want to enjoy life. I didn’t want to miss my chance. So, I went in. I signed up for my card and got $20 worth of credits. We walked around and approached the nearest slot machine. I gazed at the rainbow of gold and neon. All I can think to myself is, “This is like an adult Chuck E’ Cheese.”



From “Floor Time

By Gabe Farley

I am myself from the past.

I am lying on the floor in my unfinished living room of my apartment, and my body hurts. My lungs hurt and my chest muscles are sore. I inhale. This room is a mess of partially finished construction projects and tools. Strewn clothing and dust covers everything, including my small bookshelf and coffee table. My reality is folding on itself as I lie here, but not in a dramatic way. I am not perceiving time as I feel like I should be. I should be going about my day like any other person, like someone who worked through their day, had time to go to the store to pick up groceries, plan out dinner with their partner or family, leisure time, bed time. But here where I am lying, my arms flat against the cold, flaky linoleum floor, my face laying sideways in a thin layer of concrete dust, time isn’t working well for me. I want the minutes to pass in a measurable way; a predictable, logical method. Where one minute takes the same amount of time as the minute before, the same for the previous. But I can’t make that happen.


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