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Area students win literary prose awards

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Schuster Award

LaFollette High School senior Zella Milfred (right) was the winner of 1st prize in the Robert M. Schuster Short Prose Awards, presented by Madison author and publisher David Benjamin at LaFollette, his alma mater. Milfred earned $5,000 for her story “Watch Where You Step”. Milfred will be attending Northwestern University.

Four LaFollette High School students were selected for as winners of a monetary scholarship award for their prose.

More than 20 LaFollette juniors and seniors submitted stories and essays to the fourth-annual Robert M. Schuster Short Prose Competition during the 2020-21 school year.

The competition was put together by Madison author/publisher David Benjamin and LHS English teacher Keri Hornung.

Four winners of the Short Prose Award were recently announced, and will be awarded scholarships worth $9,500 for their work.

LaFollette student Zella Milfred took first place in the competition, for a “captivating story set in a chipmonk burrow beneath LaFollette High School,” a release said. The piece was titled “Watch Where You Step.” Milfred earned a $5,000 scholarship for the piece.

The runner-up of the competition was Elizabeth Thao, for a pice called “Spaghetti for Sinner.” Thao earned a $2,500 scholarship.

Third place, and a $1,500 scholarship, went to Apollo Kaufman for a piece titled “Dog Catcher.”

Kaufman was also awarded an additional scholarship, for $500, for dropping the best line, a category judged exclusively by Benjamin. That winning line, the release said, was “sidewalk-chalk children hopscotching with broken ankles.”

LHS students Kiera O’Higgins, Tziah McNair and Nabah H. Khondaker earned honorable mentions in the competition.

This year’s prose theme was “the light at the end of the tunnel,” a release said.

Benjamin said students created remarkable work for the competition, despite the added stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This year’s kids faced huge difficulties in focusing their minds and submitting their prose. But this group of entries equaled — and in some respects exceeded — the quality of writing we’ve seen in previous, less challenging years. The level of talent was exciting,” Benjamin said in a release.

Benjamin created the prose competition in 2018, to memorialize LaFollette graduate and friend Robert M. Schuster, who died of leukemia in 2016. Schuster graduated from LHS in 1966, and published “The Id” literary magazine.

The release said funding for the scholarship program was provided by the legacy of Peggy Benjamin, a friend of Bob Schuster who also passed away in 2016. Additional support came from Schuster’s wife Kathy and Madison attorney Chuck Chvala.

“Since I was a high-school writer,” said Benjamin, “I’ve believed that writers are 21grossly underpaid and undervalued. I started the Schuster Prize partly to right that wrong. I suspect that it’s among the most — if not the most — generous grant program for young writers in Wisconsin.”

Benjamin founded his own publishing imprint, Last Kid Books in 2019, and is the winner of 12 independent press awards for his first ten works.

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