Announcing the Winners of the 2021 Fall Fiction Contest

Woman writing on laptop while sitting outside

The 7th annual Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) Fall Fiction Contest brought writers from across the country together for a chance to win a scholarship to SNHU and publication in The Penmen Review. After receiving more than 650 submissions, a panel of creative writing experts considered several factors during their review, including originality, structure, character arc, language and whether it was engaging.

Once the judging concluded, the top–scoring stories made it to the voting round, and the public weighed in on their favorites. The winners of the 2021 Fall Fiction Contest are:

The top three writers were awarded $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000 scholarships, respectively, that can be applied to an SNHU undergraduate or graduate degree program.

All five stories earned publication in The Penmen Review, and the writers will have an opportunity to read their work at an upcoming virtual Student Writer Spotlight event. They’ll also receive two books, including “The Structure of Story: How to Write Great Stories by Focusing on What Really Matters” by Ross Hartmann and “The Best American Short Stories 2021.”

Meet the Winners

This year, the finalists possessed varied writing backgrounds, educational and professional goals, but they all produced work that stood out and resonated with others.

First Place

Rachel EnrightSince she was a little girl, Rachel Enright has been writing stories, but it has always been just for fun: until last year. She decided to enter the Fall Fiction Contest for the first time in 2020 and is honored to have placed first this year.

While working on “The Graveyard of Abandoned Dreams,” Enright was inspired by the Halloween season, and she knew she wanted to write about ghosts. “Langston Hughes’s poem ‘Harlem’ starts with, ‘What happens to a dream deferred?’ and I thought that it would be interesting to look at that idea from the dream’s perspective.”

Enright is a high school English teacher enrolled in SNHU’s master’s in English program. With only a few classes left, she hopes to eventually achieve her doctorate to teach English at the college level.

Second Place 

Amanda KoprowskiHaving worked as a professional writer and editor in a nonfiction space, Amanda Koprowski dreams of being a full-time fiction writer. She said science fiction and fantasy are her first love.

Koprowski is hoping to get one step closer to achieving her goals as she is working on her MFA in Creative Writing at SNHU. Koprowski began writing “Between Here and There” in her romance fiction class, which she took to challenge herself in a new genre.

She pulled from her experiences traveling across the country while writing. “All of the tourist traps Myra and Alice visit are very real,” she said. Taking a chance on a new genre paid off in the end, and Koprowski said she is both excited and flattered to have placed second in this year’s contest.

Third Place 

Brian ReickartAs a writer of poetry, short stories, and longer pieces of both fiction and nonfiction, Brian Reickert is no stranger to The Penmen Review and is honored to have his work be recognized again as he placed third in this year’s Fall Fiction Contest. “As a writer who has been working on the craft for decades, a little recognition is always much appreciated,” he said.

While Reickert’s work “On the Lake” was written years ago, he had to cut its word count in half and said it was both “a very challenging and enlightening process” – one that paid off.

Reickert has worked as an English Language Arts teacher for the past 15 years and is currently aiming to achieve his master’s in English from SNHU while working on a novella-length fiction narrative based on Joseph Campbells’ hero journey monomyth.

Fourth Place 

Janet PetrineJanet Petrine’s short story, “Whispers of Archipelago,” started with a photo. “I stumbled on a beautiful picture of an Inuit mother and her child,” she said. “My writing process began with the image, and then I looked backward at the character I imagined her to be.”

Petrine works as an anesthesia technologist, which has required most of her time, leaving her writing to take the back seat for a few years. However, she is ready to get more serious about her writing again and said it feels great to have placed fourth in the Fall Fiction Contest and have her work published.

Having finished her Bachelor of Arts in General Studies, Petrine considers going back to school for her MFA. “I intend to devote myself to writing and submitting my work,” she said. “I have found that I enjoy all sorts of writing and want to explore other mediums, like screenwriting.”

Fifth Place 

Brittany CrayHaving only ever written for pleasure, Brittany Cray said she threw caution to the wind and entered her writing into this year’s Fall Fiction contest. It was a great chance to take, having placed fifth in this year’s competition.

Cray’s short story, “Chamomile,” was inspired by the agony of depression. “My writing process begins with me sitting on an idea for several days,” she said. “After I have a rough skeleton of the story in my head, I start building the meat around those bones.”

Cray is currently working toward her bachelor’s in English language and literature and plans on achieving a master’s afterward. She hopes to become a librarian one day as her love of reading and literature is a big part of her life. She is often crafting stories with her young daughter.

Meet the Judges who Identified the Finalists

Abbie Barker is a writer living with her husband and two kids in New Hampshire. Her short fiction has appeared in Cincinnati ReviewHobartMonkeybicyclePithead ChapelAtticus Review and others. Her work has been nominated for Best Microfiction 2022 and The Pushcart Prize. She teaches creative writing online for SNHU. Learn more at

Pamme Boutselis is a senior content director and adjunct communication instructor at SNHU. An award-winning writer, her work has been featured in print and online via The Huffington Post, newspapers, parenting magazines, technology publications and non-fiction and poetry anthologies. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication.

Crystal Curry is the author of two prize–winning poetry books, “But I Have Realized It” and “Our Chrome Arms of Gymnasium.” She holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in Creative Writing and an EdM in Human Resource Development. Curry has been an adjunct professor of creative writing and English at SNHU since 2012. She lives in the Bronx, New York, with her family.

Pete Davies works on the marketing team at SNHU. In his prior lives, he earned a BA in Creative Writing, sold fireworks in North Dakota, investigated police misconduct in New York City and taught fiction writing in Wisconsin.

Courtney McDermott holds an MFA from the University of Notre Dame. Her debut collection of short stories, “How They Spend Their Sundays,” was nominated for the PEN/Hemingway Award and The Story Prize. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. McDermott has been teaching at SNHU since 2014, and she lives in the greater Boston area with her husband and son.

Cyndle Plaisted Rials lives in Maine between the mountains and the ocean. In addition to teaching creative writing courses at SNHU, she operates a small business designing and creating fiber art and accessories. Plaisted Rials earned her MFA at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her poems have appeared in such places as Hunger Mountain, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and Be Wilder: A Word Portland Anthology, among others. She is currently at work on her first novel.

Christopher Sullivan, MFA, has worked as an adjunct instructor at SNHU since 2011 and has served as a member of The Penmen Review’s editorial board since 2012. Sullivan teaches numerous creative writing, screenwriting and English composition courses at SNHU, and he encourages his students to be fearless (and keep an open mind) as they study and sharpen their respective craft. In his spare time, Sullivan enjoys writing, reading and spending time with his beautiful family. He is also an avid Boston sports fan.

Emily Winters is creative writing adjunct faculty member at SNHU.