From flying cows to John Wesley Powell: Collections from 2 Southern Utah writers earn state recognition

Composite image, background photo of Capitol Reef, Utah, date not specified | Background photo courtesy Ken Kistler, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Division of Arts & Museums has chosen 22 writers in seven categories as the winners of the 59th annual “Utah Original Writing Competition.” Among the winners in the fiction collection category were a Southern Utah professor and the literary chair for the Zion Arts and Humanities Council.

The winners were selected from a total of 225 entries from Utah-based writers. Manuscripts were reviewed in a blind process by judges who reside outside of Utah.

Past winners of the statewide Original Writing Competition have gone on to receive the Flannery O’Connor Award and the International Reading Association Award. Past awardees include Orson Scott Card and Ron Carlson. Four past Utah Poets Laureate have also won an award in the competition, including David Lee, Ken Brewer, Katharine Coles and Lance Larsen.

Kevin Holdsworth is one of two Southern Utah writers to earn recognition in the 59th annual “Utah Original Writing Competition,” photo date and location not specified | Photo from Kevin Holdsworth, Author Facebook page, St. George News

Kevin Holdsworth, who won second place with his collection “Silver Wings,” told St. George News the Original Writing Competition is one of the bigger ones in the state.

Holdsworth teaches at Snow College in Ephraim, but his wife teaches at Southern Utah University, and as a result, they spend a fair amount of time traveling back and forth.

Previous to “Silver Wings,” Holdsworth has had two nonfiction books published dealing with the contemporary West: “Big Wonderful: Notes from Wyoming” and “Good Water.”

“All of my books tend to deal with sort of the ‘periphery’ of the intermountain West – the people you don’t really hear a lot about,” Holdsworth said.

“They don’t live in the cities; they’re a little bit odd,” he said. “We have these people everywhere, but I think so much of the West is still cut up into myth. In St. George, you’ve got all kinds of mythical stuff there, from the polygamy folks to the arsenal folks. I’ve always tried to present people the way they are.”

The titular story of the collection, “Silver Wings,” is one that sticks out in Holdsworth’s mind. He said the idea came to him after reading an essay from a student from Wayne County. In the essay, the student talked about how drought and environmentalism had forced ranchers to “sail” their cattle.

What the student meant to say was “sell” the cattle, but “he spelled it ‘s-a-i-l’ because that’s the way he had always heard it.” Holdsworth said.

That went around and around in my head, and I came up with this character, Ron Larson, who lives in a little town and wants to watch birds. He doesn’t want to deal with his wife or his job very much. As the story progresses, he starts with one type of flight and then goes to another one and eventually flies out of sight on an ultralight airplane. The first flight does involve a rodent that they strap into their quite large glider. It isn’t a good ending for the poor little guinea pig.

In another story in the collection, Holdsworth sticks a little closer to reality, basing the story on an actual jailbreak incident in Daggett County. While the finished product was a work of fiction, Holdsworth said the real-life event had “such perfect pieces.”

“They break into an ex-cop’s trailer. They get caught at Pizza Hut. Somebody reported seeing them in a different area from where they were, so the whole search went to that area and it turned out to be hoax. So it was like, ‘Someone’s gotta write this story up.’”

John Wesley Powell public domain image, St. George News

Holdsworth isn’t the only winner who used reality as a basis for his stories. Gene Gerstner, who was awarded honorable mention in the fiction collection category for “Different Ways Home, and Other Stories,” took the idea for what he believes to be the best story in his collection from the 1869 expedition of John Wesley Powell down the Green and Colorado rivers.

“It’s an interior monologue by Oramel Howland, one of the men who was with the Powell expedition,” Gerstner said.

Howland parted from the expedition with his brother, Seneca Howland, and William Dunn at what has become known as Separation Canyon in the Grand Canyon after making it 99 days on the river but claiming they didn’t think they would survive the rest of the trip. Unbeknownst to the three men, they would’ve been out of the Grand Canyon in just two more days.

“They were never found again,” he said, “so I leave it kind of ambiguous, but you know he’s not making it.”

Gerstner said the other stories in his collection represent a variety of styles and points of view – from first-person to omniscient narrative, both men and women as main characters and settings from the past to the present.

They’re usually about people struggling to figure out how to make sense of what’s going on in their lives,” he said.

While Holdsworth has published other books, this is Gerstner’s first foray into story writing on a serious scale, he said.

“I write letters to the editor,” he said and laughed.

But he is no stranger to the written word. In addition to volunteering at Zion National Park, he serves as the literary chair for Z-Arts and spent 30 years writing new business proposals for TRW, an American corporation involved in mainly the aerospace, automotive and credit-report industries for over a century before being acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2002. It wasn’t the most imaginative work, he said, but it was exciting.

I had some really top engineers and scientists who were writing about the space probe. I worked on the Gamma Ray Observatory proposal and the Cassini probe. Working with those kinds of men and women who knew things I didn’t know was really exciting – to listen to them and find a whole new world out that I knew nothing about.

Gerstner plans to continue editing “Different Ways Home, and Other Stories” and seek out a publisher, but he isn’t sitting on his laurels.

“I’m currently working on a story set in Morocco when it was still a French protectorate about the time the native peoples were getting restless and wanting to throw off colonial rule,” he said.

As to “Silver Wings,” Holdsworth said it is with a publisher and he is still waiting to hear if they are going to publish. His next book is about climbing the highest peaks in Utah.

“When I was a younger man, I spent a lot of time … hiking mountains in Utah … just really enjoying the wilderness, the outdoors, the alpine splendor, high-mountain world,” he said. “That’s always been one of my favorite parts of Utah.”

Follow Kevin Holdsworth on his Facebook author page.

The complete list of winners for the 59th annual Utah Original Writing Competition are as follows:

Category A: Novel, judged by Matthew Batt

  • First Place: “Forever Desolation” by Tim Glenn (Green River)
  • Second Place: “The Evidence of Damage” by Shauna Brock (Salt Lake City)
  • Honorable Mention: “Bluebird” by Michael Scott Smith (Salt Lake City)

Category B: Creative Nonfiction Book, judged by Rebecca Rule

  • First Place: “Not in My House” by Susanna Nielsen Barlow (Bluffdale)
  • Second Place: “The Architecture of a Mother” by Rebecca Brenner (Park City)
  • Honorable Mention: “Girl on a Pony” by Christine Fraizer (Millcreek)

Category C: Book-length Collection of Stories, judged by Becky Bradway

  • First Place: “Coyote Sky” by Joni Hemond (Salt Lake City)
  • Second Place: “Silver Wings” by Kevin Holdsworth (Parowan)
  • Honorable Mention: “Different Ways Home, and Other Stories” by Gene Gerstner (Springdale)

Category D: Young Adult Book, judged by Elizabeth Briggs

  • First Place: “By the Blood of the Witches” by Alison Woods (Springville)
  • Second Place: “Worth It” by Stephanie Moore (Farmington)
  • Honorable Mention: “The Logic of Love, Cynicism, and Related Theories” by Patrice Carey (Provo)

Category E: Poetry, judged by Cole Swensen

  • First Place: “A Smell Sleepless” by Elisabeth Loveland (Provo)
  • Second Place: “The Skull on the Table” by Claire Akebrand (Provo)
  • Honorable Mention: “Filling Cracks & Walking on Water” by Maurine Haltiner (Salt Lake City)

Category F: Short Story, judged by Craig Holden

  • First Place: “The Birth Canal” by Larkin Weyand (Pleasant Grove)
  • Second Place: “Samantha’s Memory” by Aaron Allen (Orem)
  • Honorable Mention: “In Denver” by Ranjan Adiga (Salt Lake City)

Category G: Creative Nonfiction Essay, judged by Michael Martone

  • First Place: “On Blushing” by Elizabeth Tidwell (Pleasant Grove)
  • Second Place: “Marquinn Intake Form” by Andrew Romriell (Logan)
  • Honorable Mention: “Systole, Diastole” by Darlene Young (South Jordan)
  • Honorable Mention: “Thought Runs on the Fugitive Concept ‘Thing-Theory’” by Eugene Washington (Logan)


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