The Jan Rehner Prize for Writing - Fall/Winter 2017

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 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 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 2017, this competition was co-ordinated by Jon Sufrin, with much assistance from Writing Department faculty and students.

Papers are linked with permission from their authors.

Selection Process

Small juries composed of Writing Department faculty and upper-year students 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 2017, winners were not selected in the second-year category and there was no fourth-year honourable mention.

Jury Members

Andrea McKenzie, Madelaine Pries, Jon Sufrin, Stephanie Wilcox

FW 2017 Jan Rehner Writing Prize Finalists

1st Year

Honourable Mention:

  • Sophie Morgan. "The Perfect Deal."

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

“The Perfect Deal” is an intelligent and thoughtfully written familiar essay worthy of honourable mention. The writer invites us on an emotional journey, from frustration to despair to hope, as the narrator ponders the hand they have been dealt in life with their loss of sight in one eye, and how to process the looming possibility of losing sight in the other. As the narrator questions how to view their situation, they build on and question their own perspective with the thoughts of poets like Sara Teasdale, Carl Phillips, T.S. Eliot and Walt Whitman. The narrator shows impressive analytical skill as they interpret the poems and apply them to their own thoughts to arrive at new insights, showing also an ability to question their own thinking and see multiple perspectives. The author integrates the poets’ work into the essay seamlessly, using each as a stepping stone until they come to the conclusion that they “cannot be limited by Life’s mysteries, but must cherish (their) experiences in order to grow, refusing to be bound by misfortune.” A highly descriptive, emotional and thoughtful piece, "The Perfect Deal" is an absolute pleasure to read.


  • Christopher Mouré. "What Lies Ahead."

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

“What Lies Ahead” is a beautifully crafted familiar essay with movement, reflection, and superb use of sources to complicate and extend the thinking. The writer explores perspectives about failure through the lens of Camus and Calvino, playing with the metaphor of the explorer who finds that “travelling is a process of remaking the past, of recontextualizing one’s own identity.” We must journey away from the moment to contextualize our failures and to give ourselves “choice” – choice about which of our identities will “inhabit this past” from a future distance, even if, as the writer concludes, we must travel on “an imaginary itinerary to an invisible city” to give ourselves hope and perspective.

2nd Year: No winners were chosen in FW 2017

3rd Year

Honourable Mention:

  • Olivia Quenneville. "To: You, From: Me."

  • WRIT 3730, Substantive Editing. Course Director: Dunja Baus

“To: You, From: Me” is an example of reflective writing turned deeply inward, embracing self-awareness and the journey of discovery in a creative and engaging piece. Wielding perspective shifts, metaphor, and nuance, the author explores how emotion can both propel and stall a writer, simultaneously revealing the rawness that lies at the core of our creation, improvisation, and communication. Engaging, human, and relatable, the piece presents a message familiar to fellow writers and creatives, communicating the complexity of a writer’s relationship with writing. “To: You, From: Me” is an excellently written and evocative submission, well-deserving of Honourable Mention.


“Teachers and TAs” provides an insightful and thought-provoking analysis of the news coverage and resulting public perception of the 2015 strikes held by the Canadian Union of Public Employees local 3903 and the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. The scope of reading and research the author conducted to inform this piece is itself an impressive feat; however, it is their in-depth analysis of the texts and images presented in news articles published at the time that makes new and fascinating connections for the reader. The author uses these skills and relevant scholarly research to determine how emotional narrative is constructed in news coverage, and how it affects public perception of the events covered. In the end, the reader cannot but agree with the author’s finding that “reporting is not so objective…after all.”

4th Year


  • John Wilson. “How to Save a Marsh.”

  • WRIT 4002, Periodical Writing and Publishing Practicum. Course Director: Paul McLaughlin

This article is a first-rate example of how to weave research and analysis with scene and character to create a compelling journalistic story. The author succeeds in describing community and ecological strife over the wetlands of the Rattray Marsh while tying these specific circumstances to the larger reality of ecosystem destruction and environmental change. Well attuned to their audience, the writer provides enough information about the role of wetlands in the environment to communicate their importance without making the article inaccessible to the average reader. Interviews conducted with key figures as well as research into past news reports and people involved with the Rattray Marsh show the author’s resourcefulness and dedication to telling a well-informed story. This article effectively brings the reader into the community and invests readers in the future of the Rattray Marsh and wetlands at large.

Recent Submissions