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There has been a national conversation about the limits of free speech on college campuses and what faculty can say on their personal social media accounts.

October 24, 2017

Cornell MFA Student Honored With National Literary Award

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What do Cornell MFA student Shakarean Hutchinson and Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Colson Whitehead have in common?

Both were awarded a Hurston/Wright Award — and for Hutchinson, the honor was in the company she kept.

The award, which was given to Hutchinson for College Writers in the Fiction category, is named after acclaimed African American writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright and aims to support emerging black artists from around the country.

“It’s an honor to follow in their footsteps,” Hutchinson said. “And Zora Neale Hurston is a hero of mine.”

Submissions to the college fiction category must be works of poetry or fiction by non-published black writers currently enrolled in U.S. undergraduate or graduate programs.

Hutchinson was awarded this prize for her short story titled “How to Kill Pigs.” The story centered on a black teenage girl named Daisy “who is understanding the effect men play in her life,” Hutchinson said.

“It’s about this black family trying to make it in the world,” she said.

For Hutchinson, the inspiration for her story was twofold. First and foremost, it was personal.

“One, my mother’s stories about how she was a kid, her family kept farm animals in their backyard despite the fact that they lived in a neighborhood where the next house wasn’t more than a few footsteps away,” she said.

The second inspiration, she said, was sparked from a peculiar observation.

“A ransacked house that I always passed while driving to school when I was still in Charleston, S.C.,” she said. “I have no idea if the house is still there, but every time I would see it I felt that a story was trying to be told about it.”

The Hurston/Wright Foundation was founded in 1990 by author Marita Golden and historian Clyde McElvene. It was established to be a “gateway to ensure the unique experience and voice of African Americans in literature.”

Zora Neale Hurston’s influence drove her to write, Hutchinson said.

“It was her work that inspired me to write in the first place,” she said. “I wanted to be a southern black women writer like her. I still want to be like her.”