SOAR Awards

The Simon Matela SOAR Awards for Emerging Writers

The Simon Matela SOAR Awards for Emerging Writers are awarded each spring in recognition of the best work by a writer who is being published in the Minor Bird for the first time. One award will be given in each of the genres accepted by the Minor Bird (i.e., poetry, prose, criticism, and visual art) with a cash prize of $50.

Purpose – First and foremost, these prizes are being established as a memorial for Simon Matela (class of 2020), a creative writing major and Minor Bird executive board member, who passed away unexpectedly in January 2019.

The purpose of the award is to offer an incentive for students who have never been published to submit their creative work to the Minor Bird. Throughout its 90-year history, Minor Bird has always been “a place for beginnings.” All of the writers featured in the journal are emerging writers, and the journal is the first publication opportunity for almost everyone. We hope that these merit-based awards for the best work by a student being published for the first time will encourage students to resubmit until their work is accepted and then to continue to submit, knowing that their work has been recognized as excellent.

Eligibility – Chatham undergraduate students from any class or major are eligible for these awards. The only condition is that they have not previously had work published in the print publication of Minor Bird.

Submissions Process – Students will submit their original work to the Minor Bird, according to the submission guidelines. The editorial board will select work to be published in the journal based on the consensus of the board. From that accepted work, the editor-in-chief will identify any and all work that has been submitted by a writer who has never before been published in the Minor Bird. That work will be evaluated by a guest judge who will identify the best piece in each of the genres.

Guest Judges – Each year, a guest judge will be chosen by the faculty sponsor of the Minor Bird. For Spring 2020, the guest judge will be Lee Huttner, a graduate of Chatham’s MFA in Creative Writing who was Simon’s tutor and instructor.

Lee Huttner received his MFA from Chatham in 2018, where he co-won the Best Thesis prize and received the genre award in nonfiction. While at Chatham, he worked as an adjunct instructor, teaching composition and queer studies, and assisted in the administration of the First-Year Writing Program. He also worked as a mentor to students in both academic and creative writing. His writing has been featured in The Pinch, Spectrum, Southeast Review, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. His essay “Once We Were Snow” received a Special Mention for the 2020 Pushcart Prize. He is currently a proud public school English teacher in New York City.

Award Procedures – Each year, the award winners will be announced in the Spring with the launch of that year’s issue of the Minor Bird. Winners will be notified in the week before the launch that they should attend the launch party to be formally recognized. The winners’ work will appear in the journal identified as a prize winner, and their names will be listed in the journal with a description of the award and a memorial for Simon.

Donations – If you would like to contribute to the Simon Matela SOAR Awards for Emerging Writers, please contact Dr. Tippen at Your donation to this fundraiser will go directly to sustaining the cash prizes. We invite you to contribute what you can, whether that is supporting a single $50 prize, sponsoring a year’s $200 prizes, or giving $5 to recognize Simon’s generous spirit.

Congratulations to all present and past SOAR Award recipients:
Abbey Sullivan won the 2020 prose SOAR award for the piece “AD PARADISUM
Juliette Lopez won the 2020 poetry SOAR award for the piece “the story of a girl who ate 45 scoops of ice cream
Annabelle Deufel won the 2020 art SOAR award for the piece “Fire



by Simon Matela

The problem with learning to fly is that, on the first few attempts, you actually think you might be able to do it. I was luckier than most on my first try. I only shattered my tibia, a minor price to pay for the sake of progress. The whole ride to the hospital my mom was crying, both for me and the medical bills she would have to cover.

“What were you thinking, jumping out the window like that?” she yelled between short, phlegm-filled sobs. A jet-black Hyundai blares on its horn as our shitty Ford starts to drift into the next lane. Mom swerves to correct the car’s path and rolls down the window to flip off the offending driver. When turns her attention back to me she says, “Never do that again. Look at me, Charlie. Never. Do that. Again.” The thick musk of whiskey hung on every slurred word.

I spent what seemed like forever in the hospital, trapped in an oppressively white room, surrounded by a small army of nurses that watched over me like my mom used to. Then came the doctors, measuring my reflexes and asking all sorts of questions about my injury and family.

“Have you ever done this before?” / “Tell me if you can feel it when I do this?”

“Can you rotate your ankle for me?” / “How’s your relationship with your father?”

For the first few weeks after I was got home there was nearly always someone with an eye on me. Family dinners, a new concept in our house, were suddenly the norm. Most ended with little being said. Dad occasionally skipped them altogether to work in his den, or because he had to work late. It didn’t matter to me. Eventually, they would stop watching. Things would go back to normal. I’d learn to fly, whether they wanted me to or not.

That chance came on a wonderfully sunny Sunday afternoon. Mom was sleeping on the couch, beer cans strewn about the floor. Dad had been in his office all day, only coming out to use the bathroom. Every once in a while, I could hear his Keurig splutter out another coffee, the only indication I had that he was still there.

I crept up the steps to the second-floor window, slid the screen out and took a deep breath. The breeze rustled my hair a bit, I could see the trees swaying from side to side in the sunshine. I took a few steps back, got a running start, and propelled myself out the window. For one beautiful moment, I hung in the air. It might’ve last forever, if only the ground hadn’t so rudely interrupted me.


Simon’s friends had this to say about him:

“He knew how to make the whole room brighter. We would laugh at anything he said, especially when he was being goofy or quoting John Mulaney. Simon was a very open person and you could talk to him about anything. He was a great listener and he knew just what to say. He was the type of person who would really care for you. He was supportive of everyone he cared about and always thought about what was best for others. When any of his friends were hurting, he would always go out of his way to make them feel better. Simon validated his friends’ feelings and thoughts in stressful times. People always say these things after people pass, but with him, it’s all true.

“He loved playing video games with dreams of becoming a game developer. One of his favorite games was Night in the Woods. Notably, during his junior year, he loved his Virtual Reality class. Even though he seemed like a hermit on the surface, he loved being around his friends. Jokingly, we like to say he basically lived with us. He also loved nature. One of the fondest memories we have of him is going camping during the school year. He was a proud dad to a cat named Lola whom he loved very much.

“He loved writing and education, and he was so excited about getting to assist in teaching classes for his internship. He motivated his friends to be a better student constantly, even through simple things like reminding us about projects or encouraging us to get out of bed and go to class. His personality encouraged the community many of us needed on campus. Simon was a rare student and a true friend. 

“Since his death, his friends haven’t been able to fill the void that his friendship left, but they’re still thankful to him every day. Many of his friends would not have been able to adjust to college life without his help, and they cherish the short amount of time they had together. Stay gold, Ponyboy.”