Both the Renwick-Sumerwell Award for new writers and the Chekhov Award for great stories will be re-instituted in 2001.
These contests will return when both are sponsored. We have to take this action based on an assessment of our operation. Our very success with these contests — measured by the quality and quantity of the stories we received each year — hurt us because we lost money on each submission in spite of the entrance fees. As a non-profit organization run by volunteers, it is simply not possible to do that for very long.
Our goals will remain the same — to find new writers for The Crescent Review, to reward great storytelling, and to introduce ourselves to a broader audience.
The Renwick-Sumerwell Award was so-named to honor two good friends of The Crescent Review. Here are their biographies.
“I’ve invented three spirit guides. Muses. They help me center myself, focus my energy when I begin to write, escape the world of traffic and newspapers and television to the world where I can write.”
Joyce Louise Titus was born in Woodbury, New Jersey. Before she was able to read, Joyce was fascinated with words on a printed page—as a child she lay on the hallway floor copying newspaper headlines word for word. At the age of twelve she started writing poetry and short stories in a daily journal which she kept until her death on August 14, 1995. She first published at the age of thirteen having won first place in a poetry contest.
Following the example of a favorite aunt, Joyce trained to be a nurse at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1963 she married Jack Arthur Renwick and had her first child, Lynne Robin, in 1964 and her second child, Susan Mary, in 1966. Due to her husband’s career with the Naval Investigative Service and later the Secret Service, Joyce moved six times in six years. She was divorced in 1975.
Deep down Joyce knew she was a writer disguised as a nurse. Her turning point came in the late sixties when Joyce was working in a nursing home. She met a woman who told her, “I cleaned my house for fifty years, was gone one week and it was dirty. What good was my life?” When asked about this in an interview Joyce said “I realized life is very short, that entire lifetimes pass quickly, that I had to do something now if I wanted to be a writer.” Joyce enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1970, transferring to George Mason University where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Individualized Study which encompassed Nursing and English.
Joyce studied for a Masters in English at Middlebury College in Vermont and attended Bread Loaf Writing Conference for seven summers. To pay for her tuition she was on call twenty-four hours a day as the school nurse and lived in the infirmary. Joyce met her mentor, John Gardner, while studying at Bread Loaf. He taught her to “Just Tell The Story.” She had this motto hanging above her computer, typeset, and framed in bright yellow. She used to say this gave her such freedom, such permission to write. John Gardner was an inspiration to Joyce and, while at Bread Loaf, she interviewed him and many of the other writers (including John Irving) for a collection of interviews she called the Bread Loaf Dialogues. The Gardner interview was bought by NPR and broadcast nationwide.
Joyce received her MFA from the University of Iowa’s Writer’s Workshop. She moved to Maryland in 1985 where she taught Creative Writing and English at the University of Maryland, the U. S. Naval Academy, the Writers’ Center in Bethesda Maryland, and American University. While teaching, she wrote and published. Her short stories, interviews and reviews appeared in such publications as The Southern Review, Sewanee Review, The Crescent Review, The Mid-American Review, Newsday, The Houston Chronicle and Best American Short Stories and many more. Joyce was also very active in arts groups, woman’s groups and writer’s workshops. While in Maryland, she and her companion, poet Paul Grant, started the New River Readings to bring artists together. She began her own Writing Consultant Business at this time.
In 1991, after the D.C. area proved too crowded and noisy for her, Joyce moved back to Iowa which she had always loved. Looking for beauty in everything, she seemed to find it in abundance in Iowa. Joyce continued her writing consultant business. She taught classes at the University of Iowa occasionally because she enjoyed it. She was active in the artist community and was a contributing editor to Mediphors, a Literary Journal of the Health Professions. Joyce did, however, bury her nursing shoes in her backyard in a ritual of farewell.
Involved with personal exploration and discovery, Joyce reached the point where she could expose her true feelings, in her living and in her writing. Through meditation, she entered a magical nourishing world which encouraged new and rewarding directions. In an interview The Beautiful and the Disturbing by Joan Peternel (Writer’s Digest) Joyce explained “I’ve invented three spirit guides. Muses. They help me center myself, focus my energy when I begin to write, escape the world of traffic and newspapers and television to the world where I can write. The Peach Lady is a kind of cartoon-like fairy god-mother with rosy cheeks and a frilly hat and apron. She gives me peaches, mason jars, and jars of canned peaches. She’s at the entrance of the pit. She’s the messenger who takes me to the bottom of the pit, to the sun lioness, a powerful medusa-like character with great primitive powers. She’s fearsome, but I needed her when I wrote the horror in the nurse stories. I’ll need her for the novel, too. When I write of beauty or need comfort, though, I go to Alexis. She’s motherly, quiet. Her house has music and flowers, soft couches, a view on to the water.” A fourth Muse, Titus, emerged but Joyce never disclosed her characteristics. This spirit guide was inspiring Joyce to write her last work which was autobiographical with some aspects fictionalized. Joyce’s Muses were facets of her personality, her higher self.
In the last two years of her life, Joyce began to paint. Instead of using canvas, she painted chairs to remind her of the people she loved. She would start with an idea then let go as a whimsical thread emerged, finding inspiration for new stories by the time she was finished. For Joyce “other things bring me joyfully back to writing.”
Joyce lived her art. As a teacher and writer, she shared he love of beauty, honesty, and language with many.
“My objective is to find out why human beings work the way they do, especially me.”
This biography of Will Sumerwell is written by me, Harriet, his wife, and so you will see him through my eyes.
Bill was born in Kansas City, the middle of three children with an older brother and a younger sister. His family moved to Albert Lea, Minnesota, when Bill was in high school. His grandfather—a major influence on Bill’s life—had been a pitcher for the Kansas City “A’s” and a passionate flower-grower. Bill’s lifelong love of baseball and flowers came naturally. Ask him about any baseball player, any team, any year, he knew all the names. Flowers? Shortly after we were married he planted a gorgeous peony garden for me.
Bill’s gift for scientific research manifested itself early. He won a Bausch and Lomb prize for his outstanding work in chemistry when he was in high school. After a year at the University of Minnesota he switched to Iowa State University in Ames where he graduated in biochemistry and went on to graduate school.
At this point he married his high school sweetheart, Jean Gohde. After their daughter was born, he secured a job as research chemist with The Fish and Wildlife Service in Seattle. By this time he had already published several scientific papers, one on “Bound Ascorbic Acid.” He continued to publish his research.
Jean died in a tragic auto accident in 1954. Bill returned to graduate school at the University of Washington where he made an important breakthrough in an experiment on amylase which his professors, realizing its importance, immediately seized upon. Bill, feeling robbed of the credit due him, swore he would never pick up another test tube. He turned his talents to other fields, another tragedy because he was a truly gifted researcher in chemistry.
About this time we were married. I was a divorced woman with two young daughters. Suddenly, we were five with all the stresses and strains of trying to blend two broken families into one. We moved to Washington D.C. in 1960 with three teenagers and two little daughters of our own. Three years later our twins were born.
Here in Washington, Bill’s many interests flourished. He turned his attention to investing in the stock market and, typically, began developing his own methods for predicting market swings—for picking stocks based on his own mathematical calculations. He engaged in a study of interest rates over a fifty year period and planned to write a book correlating market swings with the changes in key interest rates. He gave up the project finally because he said the writing bored even him!
Bill had played clarinet in the high school band and later sang in various choirs and choruses. His love of music drew him to the opera, the symphony and chorale singing in Washington. He served on the board of the Washington Opera and the Paul Hill Chorale. He adored Russian music and was instrumental in bringing Kabelefsky’s The War Requiem to the Kennedy Center with the Chorale. He was the first president of the Washington Ballet Company and played an important role in decisions leading to its success.
Another interest of Will’s was mental health. He was a devoted supporter of St. Luke’s House and its programs for the mentally ill.
In all areas of daily living, from child rearing to community service, he brought his analytical skills and his expertise in the experimental method to bear. He was a problem solver, a listener, and one who always tried to understand.
All this work, all these activities were carried out against a background of serious health problems. The first of many ulcer attacks occurred in college. He had suffered rheumatic fever in childhood. In his early thirties, he came down with severe arthritis. Years of pain ended with replacements of a hip and both knees.
In the seventies, Bill discovered Eric Berne and Transactional Analysis and joined a group which eventually led him to The Center for Study of Human Systems. The Center offered experiential learning in self understanding, personal relationships and family dynamics. Bill threw himself enthusiastically into their programs. There his knowledge of self and others expanded exponentially. He began the journaling that led into his story writing.
At the Writers’ Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Bill studied first with Robbie Murphy—with whom he became friends—and then with Joyce Renwick. With Joyce he formed a deep bond. When he signed up for his second class with her she greeted him with, “You’re the man who writes about relationships.” She was encouraging and supportive, always. Although Bill would never let me read his stories, he confessed they often stirred up feelings in his readers, sometimes angry ones. Joyce always gave him her respect and insisted that others accord him that, too.
When Joyce moved to Iowa Bill felt a real loss. He promised to send her his stories and she promised to read, make comments and suggestions. They were to continue to work together. Before that could happen Bill died suddenly of a heart attack in April 1992.
In his last days, Bill had been exploring something new as usual —acupuncture for his body and the Tao for his spirit.
After his death, I was sorting through papers on his desk and found this statement in his handwriting, “My objective is to find out why human beings work the way they do, especially me.”