“I discovered that day, that in finding nature, natures finds you.” And so concluded a winning essay from the Third Annual Last House Writing Contest hosted by Audubon Canyon Ranch, a Northern California conservation organization and steward of iconic American writer M.F.K. Fisher’s “Last House” in the Sonoma Valley.
More than seventy entries were received, with the largest number submitted from young writers aged 13–17, who learned about the contest from teachers and online resources for creative writing.
Essays were received from a dozen US states—and in a first for the contest—approximately one-third of the entries submitted were penned by writers living outside the United States, including from Abu Dhabi, Beijing, India, Singapore, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom.
The grand prize essay, “Heartfelt,” was written by nine-year-old Boston resident Annika (Ani) Thakarar. When asked how she felt about winning the contest, Ani said “I’m pretty excited. It’s a little hard to believe. I was hoping I would win but didn’t know what it would be like. I’m proud of my writing, but it’s very surprising to have won.”
This year’s contest theme was renewal, rebirth, reemergence. “I had some other ideas at first but decided not to use them. Then I had an idea of a tree growing back and formed the story around that,” Ani told Last House program manager Susie Allen.
The contest invited writers in three age categories—child, youth, and adult—to submit original, unpublished essay, short story, or poem.
The winning essays include:
Grand Prize: Heartfelt by Annika Thakarar, Boston, MA
Adults 18 and over:
First place: "Lilacs in Spring" by Sara Alexander, San Francisco, CA
Second place: "Baby Season" by Rei Ellison, Petaluma, CA
Third place: "Valley of the Fox" by Jessica McCahon, Rohnert Park, CA
First place: "Untitled (When I was Very Young)" by Giselle Oldani, Westport, CT
Second place: "A Lesson from My Mother About the Origins of Life" by Eva Chen, Burlingame, CA
Third place: "Flower by the Creek" by Afina Liang, San Diego, CA
Children (12 and under):
First place: "Heartfelt" by Annika Thakarar, Boston, MA
Second place: "What I Learned from a Pot of Pork Intestines" by Eric Wu, Bellevue, WA
Third place: "Twice Bloomed" by Cara Wang, Fremont, CA
Sara Alexander, first place winner in the adult category, has been a fan of Fisher’s writings for years and first submitted an essay for the contest in 2020.
The panel of judges included Mitchell Davis, Author, Consultant; Kennedy Golden, Educator, daughter of M.F.K. Fisher; Michele Anna Jordan, Author, Writer, Radio Host; Carolyn Jung, Author, Food Journalist; Krishnendu Ray, Author, Sociologist, Past Chair NYU Department of Nutrition & Food Studies; Ruth Reichl, Author, Editor; Kathleen Squires, Food & Travel Writer; Randall Tarpey-Schwed, Author, Bibliographer, Podcaster; and Alice Waters, Chef, Author, Activist. Susan Ryan assisted.
Clark Wolf, who chaired the judging panel, was moved by the depth and quality of this year’s entries. “Seventy of them, coming from everywhere — from around the corner and across the globe — have reminded us just how connected we are,” he wrote after tabulating the results.
Annika plans on staying connected to creative writing over the summer, telling Allen that her reading list includes “The Magical Imperfect,” “Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry,” and “Endling.” “I’m also bringing a notebook [to camp] for a story I’m planning to write called Heist Camp, which is about four different species of birds planning a heist.”
All winning authors received a commemorative certificate designed by Fisher’s grandson, Alex Wright.
Contest entries included a $35 fee for adults, no cost for children and youth. Proceeds from entry submissions will benefit Audubon Canyon Ranch’s programs and the continuing restoration of Last House.