The Randel and Susan McCraw Helms Homecoming Writing Awards: Encouraging the Next Generation of Writers

For the past six years, Emeritus Professor of English, Randel Helms, and his wife, Susan McCraw Helms, have sponsored the Homecoming Writing Awards, which the Department of English offered to students every fall. Helms taught the popular “Bible as Literature” course, among many others, for thirty years. After his retirement from ASU in 2006, Helms came up with the idea of holding a yearly writing contest. He thought that launching a writing contest to coincide with Homecoming Week would encourage students. He was right.

Since its inception, the contest has awarded twenty-four student writers and poets. Initially, the prize for each of the three categories (poetry, scholarly essay, short story/creative nonfiction) was $100. Five years ago, however, Helms and his wife graciously increased the prize to $500 in each category. “It was always the most popular contest each year,” he said. “We got dozens and dozens of entries.” Although he and his wife provided the funding for the contest, they were not involved in reading the entries or choosing the winners. He had too many students he still knew after retiring whose work might have tempted him. “I told [Department Chair] Neal Lester that I was happy providing the funding and attending the awards ceremonies, but I didn’t want to choose who might win.”

Although the McCraw Helms Awards have now officially ended, coinciding with Susan Helms’ 2012 retirement, a grateful Department of English hopes to locate other funding in order to continue to offer this wonderful opportunity to students. The McCraw Helms Awards provided more than just a monetary reward. At its core, the contest has been a catalyst for excellence and has offered students the chance to share their work in the very special writing community in English.

Shavawn M. Berry

Image: The 2012 McCraw Helms Award winners were honored during the National Day on Writing festivities at ASU. Pictured, left to right: Alexandra Comeaux, Jennifer Murphy, and Heath Wilcock, with Department Chair Maureen Goggin. Photo by Bruce Matsunaga.

Header image: Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) background image from the Gottorfer Codex (1649-1659).