2015 Will Rogers Writing Contest Winners Announced

Eileen Mitchell has added another award to her collection. The writer-author-blogger from Palatine, Illinois, a Chicago suburb, is the first-place winner in the 2015 Will Rogers Writing Contest.

Will Rogers Writers FoundationHer essay, “Roped in by Technology,” was judged the top entry in a national competition to find the best examples of the style of writing practiced by Rogers, the popular “cowboy philosopher” of the 1920s and ’30s. The contest was sponsored by the Will Rogers Writers Foundation in association with the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Second-place winner is Justin Alberty of Inola, Oklahoma. Dr. Dan Baxter of Lowell, Arkansas, won third place. Read the full announcement at Bob Haught’s website Haughtline.net.

E. Mitchell, as she is also known, had placed second in the first of these contests, conducted in 2006 in conjunction with the Will Rogers Writers’ Workshop in Oklahoma City.

Rogers scholar Steven K. Gragert, who served as final judge for this year’s contest, was complimentary of the writing displayed by the submissions. The retired director of the Will Rogers Memorial Museums and an editor on two massive projects to publish the writings of Will Rogers selected the top three winners from a list of eight finalists. Their identities were not disclosed.

“I was much impressed with the quality of the entry essays of this year’s finalists,” Gragert said. “Will was strongly present in each. He would have enjoyed the chance to jaw with each of these fellow columnists over a bowl of chili.”

Entries were received from 20 states in wide-ranging parts of the country during the month-long contest, which was held in observance of the 80th anniversary of Rogers’ death on August 15, 1935.

Eileen Mitchell’s winning essay was a humorous commentary on modern technology. Her other awards include: winner of the 2007 Thurber Treat Humor Writing Contest and finalist in the 2015 Robert Benchley Society Humor Prize. She also won the Wild West Melodrama Playwriting Contest with her play “Danger at the Diner.”

She is author of the humor novella “Creature from the Public Domain,” which she adapted to the stage as a reading and a subsequent musical performance. Mitchell is a contributing author for a number of books, which are listed on her website E. Mitchell Humor. Since 2008 she has written the Film Hound blog for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A self-described “ardent admirer” of Will Rogers, she said his “down-to-earth wit and wisdom is much needed and sorely-missed today.” Mitchell is a member of NSNC.

Justin Alberty, whose essay “The Barefoot Approach” — a philosophical view of human relations — won second place in the 2015 competition, is a blogger at Fathers Son Daughters Daddy and a part-time columnist. His full-time occupation is communications director for the Grand River Dam Authority at Vinita, Oklahoma.

“Writing, public speaking and trying to help others share their stories are the things that I enjoy the most,” Alberty said.

“God Save the Queen” was the title of Dan Baxter’s entry, a satire about Queen Elizabeth’s finances. Nearing 70, Baxter is a retired physician who says he has “lived more lives than an unlucky cat.” Raised in wheat and cattle country in northwest Oklahoma, he worked in radio and television news for 12 years. He went to medical school then practiced 30 years as an obstetrician-gynecologist in Oklahoma and Tennessee. He writes an essay every week for a life-writing class.

The Will Rogers Writers Foundation, which promotes “clear, simple and effective writing” as exemplified by Will Rogers, awarded prizes to the winners of $200 for first place, $100 for second and $50 for third.

Read the three winning essays at the page “Top Three Entries.”

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This piece first was published in the October 2015 issue of The Columnist, the monthly membership newsletter of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

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