The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing - Fall/Winter 2015

The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing was created in honour of University Professor Jan Rehner, a long-time member of York University's Writing Department. For many years, Professor Rehner has introduced and inspired students to the study of writing, teaching students at all year levels. A University-wide AND a National 3M award teaching winner, she is as home tutoring one-on-one in the Writing Centre as she is in the lecture hall, and her careful, thoughtful feedback in tutorial and seminar has been greatly valued by her students for many years. Professor Rehner was also instrumental in the formation of the LA&PS Writing Department, helping bring together the Writing Centre and the Professional Writing Program in her capacity as program coordinator in 2012.

Professor Rehner teaches her students both to challenge dominant narratives, and to find their own voice as writers and persons. She encourages them to become critically aware of their society, and of their own writing process. This award was established in recognition of her ceaseless efforts to empower and embolden students as writers and citizens, and with the gratitude of the many students, colleagues, and friends met during her years of contribution to the Writing Department and to the University.

Competition Description

The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing is a student nominated, faculty-judged competition open to students who take Department of Writing courses. A winner and an honourable mention from 1000, 2000, 3000 and 4000 level courses are chosen in May of each year.

Submissions in any style, using any form, or from any genre may be nominated so long as their content is primarily text-based. Life writing, film criticism, podcast transcripts, reports, formal essays, and other kinds of writing are all welcome. Nominated papers must have received a final grade of an "A" or better (e.g. 80%+) and must be submitted without identifying information. The submissions assignment instructions are also required.

Both winners and runners-up receive an official transcript note, a gift card, and the opportunity to have their paper published online and permanently available on York's website.

In FW 2015, this competition was co-ordinated by Jon Sufrin, with much assistance from Writing Department faculty.

Selection Process

Small juries composed of Writing Department faculty were each assigned the papers from a single year level. Care was taken to avoid conflicts of interest in the judging. Jurors considered the submission in context of its assignment, as well as the piece's readability, style, and professionalism.

In FW 2015, an honourable mention was not selected in the second-year category.

Jury Members

Brenda Blondeau, Becky Halliday, Geoffrey Huck, Dominique O’Neill, Keith O’Regan, John Spencer, Jon Sufrin, Kathryn Travis.

FW 2015 Jan Rehner Writing Prize Finalists

1st Year


Adults often warn students that: "There is no future in art, in self-expression, and you should have no part in it." The writer replies: "But maybe I want no part in a future without art." By questioning the demands that adulthood and "collective" culture place on the individual, this powerful piece personalizes a debate that is particularly relevant in a neoliberal era that places the arts and humanities under continuous threat. This first-year assignment asked for a "familiar" essay that merged autobiographical narrative and reflection with texts read and discussed during the course, bringing together a series of exercises into a single piece. The result is both a profoundly personal text that portrays the angst of the writer and a thoughtful reflection about choosing an educational path of creative fulfillment over financial stability.

The committee noted, that, as the title announces, the writer is also a musician, something that is quite evident in her lyrical writing style.

Honourable Mention:

This critical analysis outlines and intertwines the themes of global "ignorance and cognitive dissonance" and the privileging of scientific and corporate ethos over art as the cause of the apocalyptic "destruction" of the world in Margaret Atwood's novel Oryx and Crake. The essay writer examines several "by-products" of humankind's cognitive dissonance, such as media "desensitization," moments of "self-deception," and acts of "manipulation," and demonstrates how society's separation of ethics from science, its "valuation of science over art," and the use of art for commercial purposes culminate in a "worldwide epidemic." The paper concludes that "Atwood's novel is a call to action," and neatly encapsulates the central caution that we must pay heed to the corruptive potential of the institutions of "the media, biotechnology, powerful corporations and educational systems" for the sake of our future.

The committee noted that the skillful unpacking of ideas exceeds the expected level of a first-year paper.

2nd Year (Only one finalist was chosen)


"Feedback in Online Fanfiction" explores the role that the participants in online fanfiction communities play in integrating newer members into those communities, increasing the communities' appeal and the benefits of joining them, and helping fledgling fanfiction authors become better writers. Drawing on a wide array of scholarship, the author of this paper argues that the growth of online fanfiction communities demonstrates the importance that collaboration is now playing in the online writing world.

3rd Year


Rachel Lynar, author of "Charity Analysis: The Boundless School," was asked to "produce a report that introduces the charity and indicates briefly why it would or would not be a good fit for a York University sponsorship/partnership." As one assessor noted, "the author clearly understood what they were asked to do and completed the task." The report, which recommends a university partnership with "The Boundless School" is well-written and entirely convincing. Its research is comprehensive, and its choice of partners is likely to be highly attractive to decision-makers in the university environment. This third year assignment favourably compares with other professional reports, such that the University would do well to consider the proposals here, and, as the report recommends, "partner with Boundless long-term."

Honourable Mention:

Jazz Cook's paper, "A Summer with the Mohawk Language," is a fascinating piece; its prose is so good as to be immersive and its insights are deep, resonant, and vivid. The author explores a liminal summer with their family, searching for insight into how language and identity are intertwined. The judges felt the piece demonstrated "great clarity of thought matched by simple sentences," resulting in a highly readable and beautifully crafted piece of writing that stood out from other entries.

4th Year


First place for The Jan Rehner Essay Prize in the category of fourth year is awarded to the paper titled "Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland". In this piece, the author does an exemplary job situating Wonderland in the 'time, culture, and geography' that it was created in. By giving life to Lewis Carroll as professor, clergyman and father, the author successfully draws the reader in to the awe-inspiring journey that was Wonderland - both in story and in publication - in mid-19th century Victorian England. As the author makes poignantly clear, Carroll was instrumental in pushing the genre of Children's Literature beyond the moralistic instruction manuals that dominated the genre at that time. And through the character of Alice, Carroll brought to life a strong, opinionated young female heroine who challenged what was understood as acceptable behaviour for Victorian girls. The strength of the author's analysis lay in their ability to weave primary and secondary source material into their narrative. In so doing, they successfully show how the character of Alice - and Wonderland itself - is as relevant today as it was over a hundred years ago.

Honourable Mention

In her paper "We're Sorry and It Won't Happen Again", Caterina Borracci insightfully analyses Saint Mary's University's response to the student leaders' "rape chant" which was videotaped in September 2013. Using extensive research and in-depth crisis communications theories, Borracci tells a compelling and convincing story of the university administration's mostly successful strategies in confronting this public relations nightmare. Based on its elegant yet clear prose, its detailed and thoughtful analysis, and its absorbing narrative structure, the paper is certainly a special pleasure to read. It is surely a piece of writing of which the author should be proud.

Recent Submissions