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New Mexico State student wins in The Atlantic Monthly writing contest

New Mexico State University student James Nance said he almost threw the notification letter in the trash without opening it, but that was because he didn't know a friend had entered one of his poems in The Atlantic Monthly's 2001 Student Writing Contest.



James Nance, a New Mexico State University English major, recently received third place for poetry writing in The Atlantic Monthly's 2001 Student Writer's Contest. (New Mexico State University photo by Darren Phillips)

a senior majoring in English, said he was glad he decided to open the envelope before tossing it out as junk mail. As the third-place winner in the poetry category of the magazine's contest he is now $250 richer -- or was before he spent the money on more poetry and historical review books.


The poem was written about a traditional Navajo structure called a hogan, which is a little round house made of rock and mud with a wooden roof. Nance said the inspiration for the poem, titled "Hogan," came from an experience he had rebuilding a hogan that had fallen down near his family's ranch by Magdalena in Socorro County.

Nance, the son of Jim and Beth Nance, explained that the family ranch is bordered on the south by the Alamo Navajo Reservation. He said that he helped his brother and a long-time family friend, Gene Ganadonegro, an Apache whose family lives on the reservation, rebuild the structure.

"When I told Gene that I had won the contest, he said, 'That's not fair, we all built the Hogan, but you got the money for it,'" Nance said. "Gene and his family asked me to write about other everyday things unique to the reservation. I was proud of that because I've never been asked to write something before. It's sort of like recording history in poetry."

Nance said he started writing poetry after taking a workshop at New Mexico State. "It sounded like fun and I really liked the workshop, so I kept working on my poetry," he said. "I wrote my first poem for Tony Hoagland, who lead the workshop. My poetry is more about things or places, not emotions or feelings. I like to write about rural New Mexico."

Hoagland is a published poet and a former professor at New Mexico State.

Nance, who plans to continue the family tradition of ranching, said he came to New Mexico State to get a liberal arts experience.

"I thought I had enough practical experience in agriculture. I wanted to study something different, not train for a job," he said.

Nance took the spring semester off from school to pursue another interest -- fox hunting. He said he has gone all over the country to hunt and keeps 37 American fox hounds. He participates in the traditional hunt on horseback including dressing in the traditional formal clothing. He said he will return to the university in the fall to finish his last semester of school.

Nance said the contest was an open writing contest for college students. He joins winners from universities across the country including Yale, Johns Hopkins, Ohio State and the University of Arizona.

Photo is available at http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/newsphoto/nance_james.jpg.
CUTLINE: James Nance, a New Mexico State University English major, recently received third place for poetry writing in The Atlantic Monthly's 2001 Student Writer's Contest. (New Mexico State University photo by Darren Phillips)

Julie M. Hughes
April 25, 2002