Gogebic Community College

2023 GCC Creative Writing Contest Winners


Congratulations to the winners of GCC’s 2023 creative writing contest, held across both the Ironwood campus and the Copper Country Center. Many thanks to all the students who participated and to the GCC Foundation for generously funding the prizes. We’re also grateful for the faculty and staff judges who volunteered their time to read and vote on all the entries.

The first and second-place entries have been entered in the state-wide contest with the Liberal Arts Network for Development. Questions about past or future contests can be sent to the contest coordinator, Cynthia Brandon-Slocum.


First Place: "The Clairvoyant" by Melissa Anderson

Second Place: "Dark Days" by Kylun Ochampaugh

Third Place:  "1913" by Tate Johnson

Judges: Kristie Heinonen, Melissa Helppi, and Mariah Partanen


Creative Nonfiction

First Place: "Knowledge of the Perished" by Alexandra Butler-Ehle

Second Place: "The Angelic Warrior" by Tanya Vance

Third Place: "Counter-Intuitive" by Adrienne Newman

Judges: Dr. Andrew Burt, Leah Hagen, Kris Michel, Steve Spets


First Place"Winter Dragonfly" by Sara Stukel

Second Place: "The Peak" by John Brewer

Third Place: "I Am My Sister's Daughter" by Lyla Shields

 Judges: John Austin, Pam Jansson, Kari Klemme, Dr. Peter McKenna, Dr. Jennifer Sabourin, Steve Spets

 Read the winning pieces, the writers’ bios, and the comments from our judges below.




Bios, Judges' Comments, and Winning Pieces

Woman taking a selfie in front of a mirror, smiling.Melissa Anderson lives in Ironwood, MI and plans to study marketing at the University of Michigan. In her spare time, she writes anything from short stories to songs and loves anything to do with music.

Judges’ Comments

  • This story was heart-wrenching. I liked that the reader gets the full story, so you’re not left wondering what happened next. | Mariah Partanen
  • Overall, a nice story to read. | Kristie Heinonen

Read "The Clairvoyant".

Black and white photo of a man.Kylun Ochampaugh lives with his fiancé and daughter in their home in Michigan. He often spends his free time working on his writing and studying Polish history.

Judges’ Comments

  • Great sci-fi read! It left me wanting more. | Mariah Partanen
  • Very creative and descriptive. | Melissa Helppi

Read "Dark Days".



Man posing for a picture, smiling.Tate Johnson lives in Calumet, MI. He plans on getting his chiropractic license at Northwestern Chiropractic School. In his free time, he likes to golf and play Fortnite with his buddies.

Judges’ Comments

  • It’s a sad, but good story. Left me with a lot of questions. | Mariah Partanen
  • I liked the use of local history. | Kristie Heinonen

Read "1913".


Woman with blue hair, wearing a black shirt and cross necklace posing for photo.Alexandra Butler-Ehle is from the northern Upper Peninsula. In her spare time she enjoys walking, listening to music, and learning interesting things.

Judges’ Comments

  • I enjoyed the descriptive writing, I felt like I could actually see and smell the process. | Kris Michel 
  • Such an incredibly interesting and unique topic choice for this category. In addition, word choice painted the picture of the process. | Leah Hagen
  • I appreciated the detail, and point of view.  The process of decay keeps the reader throughout. | Steve Spets

Read "Knowledge of the Perished".

Woman wearing pink lipstick, smiling for a photo.Tanya Vance is a nontraditional student born in Ft. Hood, Texas, on January 20, 1967. The daughter of a CSM, John & Marlies Vance. She has a son, a USAF KC-135 pilot, whom she says is her greatest joy. She is a lover of many things and enjoys spending her time creating, whether that's through writing, painting, sewing, photography, or cooking. If she could live anywhere in the world, it would be in the woods next to a creek with a house full of animals.

 Judges’ Comments

  • This piece made me feel like I was watching through the window.  I loved the writing style and word choices. | Kris Michel
  • The language and storytelling in this excerpt were so well done. It left me wanting more, the start to a book that I couldn’t put down. The strength and resilience of this mother despite incredibly difficult circumstances was captured perfectly! | Leah Hagen
  • The piece reminds the reader of how strong mothers need to be especially in a home that may not be a healthy environment. | Steve Spets 

Read "The Angelic Warrior".

Woman sitting in front of large window, surrounded by plants.Adrienne Newman lives in Houghton and is studying Business Admin/Entrepreneurship. She is perpetually chasing the next interesting story to live.

Judges’ Comments

  • I loved the “surprise ending”- showing the “cut was the cure,” I wasn’t expecting that. | Kris Michel
  • I very much enjoyed the metaphor within this story “the cut that becomes the cure” that moment of realization at the end is what spoke to me. | Leah Hagen

Read "Counter-Intuitive".

Woman with asymmetrical hairstyle, smiling for a photo.Sara Stukel, wife and mom of three, lives in Hancock, MI. She has brightened the lives of others as a hairstylist for over two decades and now is learning to care for others at a different level as she pursues a nursing degree at Gogebic Community College. 

Judges’ Comments

  • The poem brought me to a very interesting, imaginative corner of the author’s mind.  I felt present with the author as their experience moved from ordinary to extraordinary. | Steve Spets 

Read "Winter Dragonfly".

Man outside, wearing winter clothes with snow.John Brewer lives in Calumet Michigan and plans to study psychology at Michigan Tech.  In his free time he enjoys homebrewing and playing with his kids.

Judges’ Comments

  • This more prosaic piece made me smile more broadly each time I read it. "I stood on the legs of a newborn deer" is a delightfully effective metaphor, and the dramatic irony of the final six lines feels flawless. | John Austin

Read "The Peak".

Woman wearing a purple shirt, smiling.Lyla Shields is studying Business Administration with the hope of relocating in the near future. When she's not deep in a new book she enjoys watching Korean dramas and travelling.

Judges’ Comments

  • A density of images that insist on the clarity, to the writer, of what can be clear only to the writer-- we are asked to accept the validity of the writer's improbable experience, and the request is very persuasive. | John Austin

Read "I Am My Sister's Daughter".


Scenic Background