“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, steward of writer M.F.K. Fisher’s “Last House” in the Sonoma Valley.
More than 70 entries were received, with the largest number submitted from young writers aged 13–17.
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. “I’m pretty excited,” said the young scribe. “It’s a little hard to believe. 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,” she told program manager Susie Allen. “Then I had an idea of a tree growing back and formed the story around that.”
The contest invited writers in three age categories—child, youth, and adult—to submit original, unpublished essay, short story, or poem. Winning essays have been published on the organization’s website.
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. “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 participants 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.
Fisher lived in Last House on the Bouverie Preserve from 1971 until her death in 1992. Since 2016, Audubon Canyon Ranch has been restoring Last House to capture the spirit and the flavor of her life on the preserve and as a destination honoring her love of food, wine, literature, and nature.