Holy crap! I won! (March 25, 2010)

iwpa_award_seal

Back in January, the Editor-in-Chief at StreetWise, Suzanne Hanney, told me she’d like to nominate two of the pieces I wrote for the paper last year for Mate E. Palmer Communications awards, sponsored by the Illinois Woman’s Press Association. At the time, I thought she had gone daft. I had been a freelance reporter for all of about five minutes when she told me I actually had a shot of winning such an accolade. I spent a sizeable amount of time in 2009 honing a reputation as a go-to journalist for Chicago’s burgeoning urban agriculture business. But considering that my previous reporting experience consisted of theater criticism for the Lincoln Park High School newspaper, I figured I still had a ways to go before earning the right to trophies. But is always nice to be nominated for something, and Suzanne has been a critical mentor in my development as a writer. I can never thank her enough for all she’s done.

So imagine my great astonishment as I returned from the gym Tuesday afternoon and opened a letter from the Association. I had to read it several times over before anything made sense. It seems the good ladies of journalism decided to make me the State’s winner in the Special Articles: Agriculture, Agribusiness, Aquaculture category. Really? Wow!

Pleased as I am, I did have to take a moment to appreciate the irony. Ms. Concrete Jungle herself, lover of all things urban and high culture, wins a media award for writing about farming. True enough that the farming takes place within City limits, but it’s agriculture. If there is such a designation, I have what the horticulture set might refer to as a “black thumb.” I couldn’t even keep a cactus alive when I was living in Bensenville. But I suppose that’s life, isn’t it? Full of surprises.

The awards luncheon will be held on Saturday, May 15th, and I will receive the honor in front of a sea of female journalists who have been in the game much longer than I. How humbling and awe-inspiring. I don’t do praise well, never have, so when the inevitable tears of embarassment materialize, I will have the support of my family to help me dry them. It means so much to me that Jen will be sitting at my table, because honestly, I wouldn’t be writing this post were it not for her. A little more than a year ago, I was languishing in corporate hell, nursing a dream, but doing nothing about it. Jen invited me to participate in this blog, then kicked me in the pants as often as needed until I found the guts to branch out.

As a winner of the 2010 Mate E. Palmer Communications Contest, I will have paid entry for a wider competition, sponsored by the National Woman’s Press Association (NWPA), of which I am also a member. Again let us pause to reflect on that idea that Boop will going womano y womano against seasoned Red state agriculture vets. It’s kind of hilarious.

I dare not develop a big enough head to think I will place at the national level. I still can’t believe something I wrote will be considered at all. But I feel pretty amazing today, not to mention vindicated. I chucked it all, literally – safety, salary, benefits and continuity – to enter into a new field, as it has fallen on hard times, and when I have to compete for bylines against people ten years younger than me, with twice the experience. But even more astounding than having the gall to take a risky plunge is the fact that it’s working.

I’ll be damned.

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