In a university where the vast majority of students are occupied in some area of the biological sciences or engineering, it becomes all too easy for the average student to overlook the accomplishments made by people on the other side of Ring Road.
Allison Benis, 31, graduated from UCI Magna Cum Laude in 1996 with a B.A. in English and then as a graduate student in 1999 with an M.F.A. in creative writing.
Currently a teacher here for the 39A and 39A+ classes, Benis began writing poetry when she was 16. At the time, poetry served just as a catharsis for her emotions, an outlet that came to her naturally to her surprise. But as her talent matured, she described her writing as becoming ‘less about inspiration and more of an imperative and necessity.’
Benis has won several awards and honors, but her crowning achievement to date is winning Poets & Writers, Inc.’s first ever California Voices contest. Modeled on another contest run by a nonprofit literary organization called the Writers’ Exchange contest, this competition was aimed towards promoting emerging talent from the West Coast.
This competition was open only to writers living in California with no more than one book published in the genre in which they were competing.
Benis’ manuscript was chosen from an amazing pool of 757 entries. Obviously, with so many people vying for the same award, her victory is no small accomplishment.
The awards for this contest include an all-expenses-paid trip to New York in the spring where she will meet with her wish list group of publishers, established writers and literary organizations where she will receive advice and, hopefully, a publishing deal to have her book out within the next year. This is a dream come true for any writer at such a crucial point in her career.
Her winning manuscript entitled ‘Curtainfall’ was originally inspired by a postcard of a Degas painting that Benis found in London.
‘[The painting was] red and orange and very different from any of my normal experiences with Degas’, like his dancers.’
It inspired her to write the first in a series of prose poems that formed her 10-page entry manuscript.
‘Since it worked for me once, I decided to try it again with another Degas piece, and it worked again. I decided to just keep going with it until it burned out, but it didn’t until I had an entire manuscript.’
Her continued inspiration from the Degas pieces led her to write through the eyes of a small child abandoned by her mother.
‘[The paintings] gave me access to write about my own mother in ways that I never could before.’
Benis’ poetry has been lauded by many, including Poets & Writers Program associate Cheryl Klein, who describes Benis’ work as ‘beautiful and precise with a lot of imagination in it