The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing - Fall/Winter 2016

The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing was created in 2016 to honour University Professor Jan Rehner, a long-time member of York University’s Writing Department. For many years, Professor Rehner introduced and inspired students with the study of writing, teaching students at all year levels. A University-wide AND a National 3M award teaching winner, she was as at home tutoring one-on-one in the Writing Centre as she was 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 taught her students both to challenge dominant narratives, and to find their own voices as writers and persons. She encouraged 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 she inspired 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 Writing Department 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 submission’s assignment instructions are also required.

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

In FW 2016, this competition was co-ordinated by Jon Sufrin, with much assistance from Writing Department faculty.

Papers are linked with permission from their authors.

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 2016, an honourable mention was not selected in the second-year category.

Jury Members

Dunja Baus, Brenda Blondeau, Dominique O’Neill, Renee McWhirter, Keith O’Regan, John Spencer, Jon Sufrin, Ros Woodhouse.

FW 2016 Jan Rehner Writing Prize Finalists

1st Year

Honourable Mention:

  • Lance Morrison,"Smoke Signals."

  • WRIT 1702, Becoming a Better Writer. TA: Dion Tubrett, Course Director: Jon Sufrin.

This “personal essay” recounts the writer’s quest for identity as a First Nations person, or, as he says, “as a born-again NDN.” Engaging and sincere, this text charts the beginning of this journey – a ceremony with a traditional healer – that gives the writer an opportunity to reconnect with his ancestral language and his own “path”, a path that was “stripped away from my people through centuries of assimilation, colonialism, and genocide.” In passing, he examines his own stereotypical expectations of Aboriginal rituals, and weighs the nature, truth, and meaning in the signs he seeks. This story of reconnection not only addresses the importance of “inter-generational memory”, but also explores the deep responsibility of carrying a name, a history, and an ancestry. The author simultaneously addresses the importance of answering the call to “decolonize” a self as well as a people, and to do so in the company of – and in collaboration with – community.


  • Danielle Morris,"Bring Me the Wind."

  • WRIT 1003, Professional Writing: An Introduction. Course Director: Jon Sufrin

“Bring Me the Wind” falls into the category of “personal essay,” drawing on both autobiographical and critical material to explore an epiphany, a turning point in the writer’s life. This vivid and poignant piece of prose, both lyrical and haunting, confronts the difficult topic of child abuse with elegance and restraint: “In my eleventh year, I had become a child of dark places and even darker secrets.” Yet the writer refuses to “remain a silent victim of neglect and depravity,” doomed to repeat inherited patterns, and courageously elects to use her painful reality as a springboard for her own fashioning: “Crawling as I was through the dark did not mean I was destined to remain there. I could not fathom what my future would hold and yet I knew it would hold me.” This text, then, is not merely a “survivor’s narrative” but the testament of a “metamorphosis” that courageously “pierce[s] the horizon of possibility” by defying the power of a painful past and affirming its faith in the future.

The adjudicators have noted the marvelous use of alliteration to control the pace the text: the heavier consonants slowing down and giving weight to the story, contrasting with the liberating forces of the natural elements – light, space, wind, and grass – in which the writer finds her strength. They have also been conscious of the intimacy she creates by using her voice in several ways: to comfort herself, as in “never mind, child, there was nothing to be done” or to encourage herself: “Survive. Survive until a new reality could take shape.” She also addresses the reader directly: “Do not mourn his passing. Learn from him.”

The road between where she began life and where she stands today is worth celebrating.

2nd Year (Only one finalist was chosen)


  • Madelaine Pries,"The Jig."

  • WRIT 2710, Grammar and Proofreading. TA: Megan Hillman, Course Director: Dunja Baus

This assignment challenged students to think about language and writing by constructing a sentence of 200 words using a variety of tools. "The Jig" treats readers to a compelling piece of writing that is rich and full of energy. This piece highlights the writer's ability to incorporate technical elements and difficult vocabulary into an interesting story. The writer has managed to tell a lively and engaging story under very specific and constrained requirements. Ultimately, "The Jig" goes well beyond the requirements of the assignment and leaves the reader wanting to know what else will happen next time the girl in the story sits at the piano.

3rd Year

Honourable Mention:

"The power of revision" is an excellent piece of writing, superbly structured and organized, so that the text flows effortlessly from beginning to end. While the tone is light, it transmits a serious message, a combination that is quite compelling for the reader. Beautifully written, the paper uses the personal experience of the writer to bring the paper’s message to life and to connect that message intimately with the reader. The essay is certainly most worthy of receiving the runner-up prize for 3rd year Professional Writing paper.


"Once More, With Feeling" is a well-told and compelling story written with a good measure of suspense. It takes the reader through several realistic scenes, leading to a point of satisfaction, albeit with an open ending, as we wonder whether there will, indeed, be another kiss 'with feeling.' Not only is the story very well-written, it is also very attractively visually presented with beautiful layout, font and pagination. This is clearly a superior piece of writing certainly most deserving of the prize for best 3rd year Professional Writing paper.

4th Year

Honourable Mention:

  • Mia Favrin,“The Young Classic.”

  • WRIT 4700, Advanced Topics in Periodical Writing. Course Director: Paul McLaughlin

Mia Favin’s feature article, “The Young Classic” introduces us to Jordan Gauthier, a 23-year old drum technician based out of Ottawa Ontario. Gauthier founded the “Young Classic” Drum Company, and builds the drums kits for some of Canada’s biggest bands—including 2017 Juno award winners the Strumbellas, July Talk and The Dirty Nil—as well as a product endorser, and sought-after techie for big shows like Gord Downie’s solo act and the 2017 Junos. Favrin’s presents a fascinating biography of the eclectic and accomplished Gauthier, cogently describing how he’s made his own way to the top of his profession, and using smooth, interesting prose to keep our attention throughout. She’s also clearly well aware of genre conventions, since the style and tone of her feature article is pitch perfect.


Carlyn Atkinson’s “The Evolution of Dracula and the New Woman” investigates Bram Stoker’s iconic text through the lens of late 19th century Victorian attitudes towards feminism. Stoker embodied the fear of changing social mores in the form of eroticized female vampires, and Atkinson’s well-written paper carefully traces how Stoker presents his version of a monstrous “New Woman.” Her well-researched and referenced work explores how key characters in the text represent a “corruption of women’s morality,” and Victorians’ fears of infectious diseases and ideologies that could infect anyone, even the most respectable and proper.

The author’s clear prose and smooth organization enable her to demonstrate how, over time, vampires have come to represent the juxtaposition of fear and desire: a potent combination as irresistible for the Victorians as it is for 21st century readers. Atkinson concludes by noting how “vampire romances” form their own subgenre, and frequently feature female characters fully in control over their own sexuality: self-reliant, self-aware persons, needing no man to thrive.

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