On behalf of the English Department Writing Program, we are pleased to introduce the three winners of the 2023 Feinberg Family Prize for Excellence in First-Year Writing. This year, our judges reviewed an impressive 41 nominations across three categories: analytic, narrative, and research-based writing. Together, these essays illustrate the exemplary writing and thinking that characterize first-year writing at the University of Michigan.. This year’s nominated essays represented a broad range of creative and critical approaches and our judging committee had an exceptionally difficult task of selecting finalists. This year’s three winners were chosen because they demonstrate innovative and thoughtful approaches to the classroom-specific assignments with which they engaged. Moreover, the authors’ curiosity and attention to detail exemplify  the capacity of first-year writers to engage with urgent and relevant questions.

At their most general, college writing courses are designed to support students as they develop a range of writing and reading skills and habits that will enable them to effectively navigate future contexts. First-Year Writing  is the most ubiquitous postsecondary course in the US: It is almost always the only course required of all students, whatever their major. And yet, no single course can prepare students for every possible situation, goal, or task they may encounter in the future. What a semester of writing can do, though, is help students to develop transferable, adaptable skills and flexible habits of mind that enable them to more effectively navigate future contexts. For students, the ability to flexibly adapt to new writing situations is a vital asset; reflecting on the language choices made in response to a classroom-based writing task can support adaptation of strategies, content knowledge, and practices learned to the innumerably varied situations they will encounter throughout college and beyond. The three winning essays included in this year’s prizebook offer a snapshot of particularly successful, varied approaches to academic writing taken up by First-Year writing students. We hope that these essays can serve as models of the diverse range of writing that students can and do pursue in first-year writing.

The three winners of this year’s Prize impressed our selection committee through their engagement with various types of evidence; thoughtful development and exceptional arrangement of narrative and rhetorical moves; detailed lines of reasoning established in support of inquiry-driven analyses; and, especially, the ways that their considerations of various perspectives enabled them to arrive at new and nuanced insights. From the analytic category, Oliva Morreale’s essay established a powerful framing for each thread of her essay, offering one text, Where the Crawdads Sing, to create an analytic framework for examining censorship and agency in The Handmaid's Tale. In particular, Morreale’s attention to readerly needs supported a well-organized and compelling investigation of two texts currently circulating in academic and public discourse. From the narrative category, we are excited to present Ayah Chahine’s “Beyond Eden,” which establishes complex links among early literacy experiences, conflict, and re-visioning to create a narrative arc. Chahine’s essay demonstrates the capacity of narrative structure to create a critical context through which writers might make useful sense of disparate experiences in order to understand the process of becoming. And, finally, from the research-based category, Alex Freiburger’s investigation of online gambling and cryptocurrency examines the complication of American attitudes toward risk, situating a synthesis of secondary sources in relation to recent coverage of hip-hop artist Drake’s crypto-bet on an LA Rams game. Freiburger’s negotiation of research writing conventions – from his introductory first move through his implications for regulatory policy and individual stakeholders – illustrates the epistemic potential of sustained inquiry in first-year writing.

Although only the three winning essays are included in the following pages, we extend our congratulations to all the writers nominated for this year’s Feinberg Prize and thank them for sharing their exemplary work with us. It was truly a pleasure to read each nominated essay. We also extend our gratitude to our judging committee, and to all of the EDWP lecturers and GSIs: for nominating their students, for celebrating the excellent work our students do day to day, and for creating the classroom conditions that allow students to engage with sustained writing and critical inquiry. In addition, we would like to thank the lecturers and GSIs that composed our judging committee, volunteering their time to read, assess, and come together to discuss these essays. Finally, we extend our deepest thanks to the EDWP and the Gayle Morris Sweetland Center for Writing for on-going support in honoring the important work our students and teachers do.

Catherine Brist and Kelly Hartwell
EDWP Graduate Student Mentors