M.F.A. Student Wins Essay Award from the Children’s Literature Association

Amanda Becker

Amanda Becker, who is pursuing her Master of Fine Arts degree in children’s literature at Hollins, has been honored with a 2021 Graduate Essay Award by the Children’s Literature Association (ChLA).

A four-member committee of children’s literature scholars selected Becker’s essay, “A Story in Fragments: An Analysis of Poetry and Perspective in October Mourning,” as the winner of this year’s master’s level award.

The Graduate Student Essay Awards recognize outstanding papers written on the graduate level in the field of children’s literature. They are considered annually and awarded as warranted. In 2008, the ChLA Board approved giving two separate awards each year, one for an essay written at the master’s level and one for an essay written at the doctoral level.

“A Story in Fragments” focuses on Leslea Newman’s October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard, a novel in verse responding to the 1998 murder of Shepherd, a gay 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming. “Written with love, anger, regret, and other profound emotions, this is a truly important book that deserves the widest readership, not only among independent readers but among students in a classroom setting, as well,” noted Booklist in its review. “Most importantly, the book will introduce Matthew Shepard to a generation too young to remember the tragic circumstances of his death. Grades 8-12.”

Of Becker’s essay, a judge stated, “One thing good scholarship does is strengthen its readers’ commitment to the literature it discusses: it prompts some to return to works they thought they knew and others to pick up those works for the first time. I think this is good scholarship. The analysis of the poetic effects of diverse perspectives…is sharply focused, sensitive to textual detail, and above all resists the temptation of reductive readings.” Another judge called it “original and interesting – not just related to interpretation of the specific text but also to the larger genre of poetry.”

Becker will receive a $400 award, a one-year complimentary ChLA membership, and an invitation to present her paper at the ChLA’s annual conference, which will be held virtually this year, June 9 – 13.

ChLA is a nonprofit association of scholars, critics, professors, students, librarians, teachers, and institutions dedicated to the academic study of literature for children.