Dowagiac Union High School seniors Kyle James (fiction) and Emily Means (photography), author Michael Collins, senior Janel Snipes (fiction) of St. Joseph High School, senior Kara Hodges (fiction) of Edwardsburg High School and freshman Breanne McNitt (photography) of St. Joseph High School May 13 at Wood Fire. Breanne is the first freshman to win. Collins, who just arrived home from Europe with his Southwestern MIchigan College international studies class, presented the winners with cash awards and critiqued their short stories and pictures. (The Daily News/John Eby)
Dowagiac Union High School seniors Kyle James (fiction) and Emily Means (photography), author Michael Collins, senior Janel Snipes (fiction) of St. Joseph High School, senior Kara Hodges (fiction) of Edwardsburg High School and freshman Breanne McNitt (photography) of St. Joseph High School May 13 at Wood Fire. Breanne is the first freshman to win. Collins, who just arrived home from Europe with his Southwestern MIchigan College international studies class, presented the winners with cash awards and critiqued their short stories and pictures. (The Daily News/John Eby)

Archived Story

Two Dowagiac students win

Published 9:41pm Thursday, May 13, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

Dowagiac author Michael Collins, just returned from England and France with 12 international studies students at Southwestern Michigan College, presented his seventh annual awards at a luncheon Thursday noon at Wood Fire.

If it’s any consolation, he said the weather in Paris has been as cold and dreary as the weather here.

“I just flew back from Europe last night and I’m jet-lagged,” Collins began. “I always read these aloud so you can see how badly you can read and still be relatively successful. It was very hard to say first, second, third. Another day I could have shifted them around. It’s subjective, but these stories are very, very good.”

Collins award
for fiction

First place – $300
“Breaking Point”
Janel Snipes
St. Joseph

“Breaking Point explores the tragic effects of teenage impressionability as a young sister valiantly struggles to help her brother overcome an alcohol and drug abuse problem,” Collins said. “Shuttling him between work and home, the sister provides her brother with money and emotional support. The ending is a heartbreaking tour-de-force, shocking and deeply unsettling, but regrettably the grim reality of what can happen to even the strongest wills. This is the sort of story that should be anthologized and read in every high school class. It speaks to issues that can be a matter of life and death in the lives of teens. It’s an exceptional story.”

Janel, a senior at St. Joseph High School, expects to attend SMC to study for the medical field or creative writing. She is editor of her student newspaper and describes her story as “fiction from life.”

Second place – $200
“The Man in the Hazmat Suit”
Kyle James
Union High School

“The Man in the Hazmat Suit has echoes of author Cormac McCarthy’s Nobel Prize-winning novel, The Road. A subtle and assured story set in a post-apocalyptic world, we follow a lone character afflicted by personal neurosis emerge as an unlikely hero in a bleak landscape. This story could be the beginning of a novel. It has that sort of breadth and depth suggestive of a great literary voice lurking within,” in Collins’ assessment.
“Even though it’s post-apocalyptic, it’s more about interiority and one person coping with something,” Collins said. “Excellent job.”

Kyle, a DUHS senior, not only entered the contest for the first time, this is the first story he’s written. He intends to study graphic design at SMC. Kyle ranks third in Dowagiac’s Class of 2010.

Third place – $100
“The Fight”
Kara Hodges
Edwardsburg

Collins said, “The Fight is the sort of story that will make you cry as it chronicles an unlikely relationship between two characters who befriend one another in school  – one ostracized, the other popular. Told from the point of view of the popular girl, the story peers into the scarred psyche of the ostracized girl, a character who has been sexually and physically abused. What unfolds is a story that will make you think twice about openly dismissing those who are different. The heroic ending is a sucker punch to our own sense of prejudice. This is one of those stories that when it ends you’re trembling.”

Kara, an Edwardsburg High School senior, plans to study geology at Michigan Tech.

Collins award
for photography

First place – $250
Emily Means
Union High School

Emily, who wants to study business at the University of Michigan, finishes her high school career strong, placing in the category all four years.

Emily was first in 2007, second in 2008 and third in 2009.

Her portrait depicts her nephew, Isaac Saylor, in kind of a punk pose.

She said she photographed him by a willow tree at Twin Lakes, a headband, a tattoo on his chest and the look on his face evoking a mood about which Collins said, “I live near Twistee’s and get to see characters in all of their manifestations. This seems to define this area – smart kids, tough kids. He knows a lot and is his own person. Great work.”

Second place – $150
Breanne McNitt
St. Joseph

Breanne’s photograph shows her family’s shadows dancing on a rock face.

Third place – $50
Jessica Keitling
Niles Brandywine

Jessica no longer attends the school and lives about three hours away, so Marilyn Haslett accepted for her.

Poetry was eliminated in 2009 and, in another change, the competition was broadened from just Union High School to include St. Joseph, Edwardsburg, Coloma and Brandywine – the schools represented on the Dogwood Fine Arts Festival Visiting Authors Committee.

Collins thanked his fellow teachers for “promoting these events that give the kids opportunities. We always struggle to provide outlets like this.”

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