Nearly 50 first-year students at Washington University in St. Louis created their own chapter to the novel The Cellist of Sarajevo, as part of the First-Year Reading Program contest.
The contest winners — all first-year students with undeclared majors in Arts & Sciences – are Juliet Kinder, Kristen O’Neal, Lauren Paley, Amanda Phan and Jingxuan “Judy” Wang.
The winners were treated to lunch with the book’s author, Steven Galloway, Sept. 12 at the Whittemore House on the Danforth Campus. Later that evening, Galloway presented a talk for the Assembly Series.
Kinder, the grand prize winner, also received a $250 gift certificate courtesy of the Washington University Campus Store.
Students had the option of developing a chapter from the perspective of an unknown or existing character and positioning it anywhere in the book.
The Cellist follows four people trying to survive in war-torn Sarajevo. In particular, a lone cellist faces sniper attacks as he performs in the streets to honor the dead. The book is a testament to the endurance of the spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a time of war.
Student entries took the form of musical compositions and photography as well as written chapters.
Teams of faculty and administrators reviewed all the submissions and proposed their top choices to the final judges: Karen Levin Coburn, senior consultant in residence; Mary Laurita, assistant dean in the College of Arts & Sciences; and Jeffery Matthews, professor of the practice in drama in the Performing Arts Department in Arts & Sciences.
“The top-five winners were particularly imaginative and captured the major themes and characteristics of the novel,” Coburn says. “Juliet mirrored the style and rhythm of Galloway’s novel, while adding her own highly original creation to the story. With twists and increasing tension in the plot line of her brief chapter, she held the reader in suspense until the very last sentence.”
Kinder said she tried to write out scenarios in her head as she was reading the book.
“I had originally intended to do a chapter from the perspective of the cellist,” she says.
“However, when I had stopped looking entirely, I got to the part in the book where Arrow kills the enemy sniper, and I decided to write about that instead as it was an unexplored, but fascinating perspective.
“I found the book incredibly interesting, and especially well done in its minimalistic style. It made the novel feel as if it could happen anywhere.”
Kinder, who is considering an English major in Arts & Sciences with a minor in creative writing, says it was “incredible” to meet the book’s author.
“He (Galloway) is down-to-earth, funny, and it was amazing to hear about his writing process. I am so happy I tried for the opportunity,” she says.
Laurita says that judging the contest gave her a “unique glimpse into the talent and level of awareness that lies within this year’s freshman class.”
Members of the Class of 2015 read the selected book over the summer and took part in faculty-led discussions as part of new student orientation. The students will encounter themes from the book in classes and discussions throughout the academic year.
The First-Year Reading Program, which provides a common intellectual experience for incoming first-year students at Washington University, is in its ninth year, and is sponsored by the First Year Center.