Healing Stories Creative Writing Contest

Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners of our Healing Stories Creative Writing Contest. We hope you will take the time to read through these thoughtful and evocative writing submissions on health and healing. To join the conversation or to share your own story, click here.


First Place Prize: $1,000
“Leaving Home” by Martha L. Bird, Lincoln University
In “Leaving Home,” the writer pays lots of attention to detail and avoids the little oversights a less experienced poet might have. In addition to a great economy of words and the use of beautiful and musical language, the poem employs a regular rhyme scheme without the triteness of a nursery rhyme. The imagery is strong, and it helps the poem deal with the shifting nature of reality, and ultimately, loss.
The poem bears witness to the pain and loss, thereby offering its own kind of healing.

Second Place Prize: $500
“Waiting for the Cure” by Alexis Grant, Howard University
The writing masterfully addresses the subject of the culture of fear about seeking medical treatment and subverts the reader’s expectations about the “condition” — the fear of treatment is the problem, not the diagnosis. Its voice is strong and clear and critical without being judgmental. The strength of this poem rests in the writer’s ability to communicate a legacy of trauma around “treatment” in so few words.

Third Place Prize: $250
“Dear Ancestors, Please, Get Well Soon” by Zuleka Henderson, Howard University
This poem conveys an intimacy in tone and form. The writer’s treatment of generational trauma and pain is intriguing, as is the suggested need for holistic healing. The poem’s address to the ancestors suggests that healing is possible across space and time.

Short Story

First Place Prize: $1,000 (Two entries tied for first place; no third place prize was awarded.)
“King of Kings” by Rachel Kersey, Howard University
“What Pains You” by Layla Reaves, Howard University

“King of Kings” is deeply imbued with emotion and tenderness without being overly sentimental. It captures a range of human emotion and experiences as it depicts pain, illness and loss. Most striking is its treatment of healing. Within the portraiture of terminal illness, where there is no possibility of healing for the patient, the narrative also offers an idea of emotional healing for those afflicted in other ways (in this case the surviving family). In many ways, the story is about the numerous other things that ail us as people, as families, or fissured family units, and it explores the paradox of healing through loss. It’s a wonderfully touching piece. The use of the “king” motif is impressively sustained.

“What Pains You” is filled with resonant imagery and beautiful metaphors. While the narrative is, at times, unclear in terms of voice, the ambiguity and haze add to the supernatural elements and theme present throughout. The story, in subtle ways, offers a look at unconventional modes of healing and other ways of knowing. More importantly, it forces a look at the tension between holistic and conventional approaches and it engages a community’s treatment of that tension. The story, however briefly, opens up a space for that binary to be troubled.

Honorable Mention
“Hiatus” by Imani Richardson, Morgan State University
“Bill & Clara B.” by Henry Ramey, North Carolina A&T State University

About the Contest

The Healing Stories Creative Writing Contest, sponsored by the Department of English at Howard University in collaboration with Clay Goss of Morgan State University and Tuckson Health Connections, is an initiative targeted to the creative writing community of HBCU institutions. It is designed to stimulate students to create and share works of poetry and fiction that explore elements of the continuum from the struggle to achieve health and wholeness to the burdens associated with coping with illness. The purpose is to develop talent, showcase creative works, make an important social contribution, and provide young creative writers opportunities to earn prize rewards.

The Healing Stories initiative arises out of the tragic reality of the excessive burden of poor health and premature death experienced by communities of color. Within this context, it is essential that disease prevention and medical care interventions be guided by enhanced insights into real life health related motivations, family dynamics, and community influences. Ultimately, it is hoped that this exploration of character and circumstance will benefit both the student writers and health professionals who deliver prevention and curative services.

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The contest is open to undergraduate and graduate students attending a recognized HBCU. Student submissions must be accompanied by a letter from an HBCU faculty member attesting that they are, in fact, students of that institution.

Entry Deadline

Entry deadline has now passed.


The contest will offer a $1,000 first place prize, a $500 second place prize, and a $250 third place prize. Additionally, noteworthy submissions will be made available on the Howard University Department of English and Tuckson Health Connections websites and actively promoted via social and other media.


Contact us at writingcontest@tucksonhealthconnections.com

Read the Initiative Invitation Official Contest Guidelines

Our Healing Story Inspirations

“Yet another type of medicine is also being practiced on our planet. It is one that involves not only the the body but the mind and the spirit; it involves not only the person but her family, her community, and her world.”

The Scalpel and the Silver Bear by Lori Alvord, Elizabeth Cohen Van Pelt

“Are you sure sweetheart, that you want to be well?”

The Salt Eaters by Toni Cade Bambara

“What causes an illness like this? I wondered as Dr. Padman and I waited for my father to return from his pulmonary function test. Could it be the persistent car fumes from the twenty­five plus years my father had worked as a cabdriver? Carcinogens from the twenty­plus years he smoked as a young man, even though he hadn’t smoked in more than twenty­five years?”

Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

“Stereotypes and clichés about mental illness are as pervasive as those about race. I have noticed that the mental illness that affects white men is often characterized, if not glamorized, as a sign of genius, a burden of cerebral superiority, artistic eccentricity ­­as if their depression is somehow heroic. White women who suffer from mental illness are depicted as idle, spoiled, or just plain hysterical. Black men are demonized and pathologized. Black women with psychological problems are certainly not seen as geniuses; we are generally not labeled, ‘hysterical’ or ‘eccentric’ or even ‘pathological.’ When a black woman suffers from a mental disorder, the overwhelming opinion is that she is weak. And weakness in black women is intolerable.”

Willow Weep for Me: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Depression by Meri Nana­-Ama Danquah

“Is it her? Yeah, that’s her. She don’t look like no healing woman to me. You sure she can heal? She healed herself, first, then a horse and then a woman who looked like a turtle and I have read testimonies of peoples that say she done healed them.”

The Healing by Gayl Jones

“Thats how Ptolemy imaged the disposition of his memories, his thoughts; they were still his, still in the range of his thinking, but they were, many and most of them, locked on the other side of a closed door that he’d lost the key for. So his memory became like secrets held away from his own mind. But these secrets were noisy things; they babbled and muttered behind the door, and so if he listened closely he might catch a snatch of something he once knew well.”

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley

“She imagined a brightness that could be carried in her arms and distributed, if need be, into places as dark as the bottom of a well.”

Jazz by Toni Morrison

“And yet I continue to live. That was how my father put it, sitting in his wheelchair, the one he could not move around by himself, his right arm useless in his lap, his left nearly so, held up slightly just under his sternum, his new black Velcro­shut shoes uneven on the metal rests, this side of his face, the side near me, the left side, sagging visibly, his voice somewhere between his throat and the back of his tongue. And yet I continue to live.”

Percival Everett by Virgil Russell by Percival Everett

“She could walk through a lightning storm without being touched; grab a bolt of lightning in the palm of her hand; use the heat of lightning to start the kindling going under her medicine pot. She turned the moon into salve, the stars into swaddling cloth, and healed the wounds of every creature walking up on two or down on four.”

Mama Day by Gloria Naylor

“’Better to stay alive,’ I said. ‘At least while there’s a chance to get free.’ I thought of the sleeping pills in my bag and wondered just how great a hypocrite I was. It was so easy to advise other people to live with their pain.”

Kindred by Octavia Butler