BETHANY, W.Va. – A Bethany College English major recently won first place in the 2020 ECHO Student Literary Competition’s poetry division.

Nativa O'BrienNativa O’Brien, who will graduate in May with a bachelor of arts in English with a concentration in creative writing, submitted three poems for consideration: “Sundrown,” “Divorce is the New-Age Solomon,” and “Mother (of Human) Nature.”

“It was a surprise and a definite bright spot in all the stress and worry of recent weeks,” O’Brien said.
ECHO host Hiram College announced the winners last week even as the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the higher education landscape.

Two of O’Brien’s submitted poems were from a chapbook that she created for her senior project, and the third was written for a show by the Wheeling-based spoken word group “The Prosers,” said O’Brien, who is the assistant registrar at Bethany.

“The poems, like the chapbook as a whole, explore my complex relationships with my family and reflect on lingering emotions from past experiences,” she said. “I think the senior project itself is a chance for reflection and introspection as well as scholastic achievement, and I appreciate the opportunities I’ve been given — with the project and the ECHO Literary Competition alike — to consider who I am not just as a writer but as a person.”

The annual ECHO Student Literary Competition is open to undergraduates at Bethany, Heidelberg University, Hiram, Marietta College, University of Mount Union, and Muskingum University.

A panel of faculty from the eligible schools evaluate the submissions without knowing the identity of the authors, and faculty do not judge entries from their home schools. First prize is $150.

O’Brien said that she entered the competition in 2017 and 2019 but did not place.

“To win first place this year — my final year — is a real honor and something of a capstone in itself,” she said.

Dr. Jessie Janeshek, an associate professor of English at Bethany and a judge for ECHO, said O’Brien’s poetry started strongly in her freshman year and has only gotten better.

“She’s built a coherent body of work as she wrestles with themes important to her and develops her own aesthetic. Nativa’s work is neo-confessional,” Janeshek said. “The poems that won … are from her senior thesis, a chapbook of poems exploring her nuanced relationship with her family, particularly her older sister, and a literary-critical introduction that contextualizes her work in the confessional poetry tradition comparing it to the poems of Anne Sexton and Robert Lowell. Her poetry examines her and her sister’s shared childhoods and divergent adulthoods with striking concrete details, empathy, irony, and humor.”

Janeshek said she’s happy and proud that O’Brien won: “It’s a bright spot in this very strange time and a wonderful end to her academic career at Bethany.”

In addition to poetry, ECHO also judges entries in fiction and creative nonfiction.

All finalists are set to be published in the upcoming Echo Literary Journal.

“We are very excited that Nativa has received this well-earned recognition for her work,” said Dr. Joe Lane, provost and dean of faculty. “She is truly a promising poet and a credit to the Bethany English program. Dr. Jessie Janeshek, an accomplished poet in her own right, does a remarkable job in her workshops helping Bethany students develop their own distinctive voices and poetic structures, and we are excited to see what Nativa, and her fellow Bethanian writers, will produce in the future.”


Bethany College, founded in 1840, is the oldest private college in West Virginia. The Bethany experience focuses on academic excellence in the area of liberal arts and prepares students for a lifetime of work and a life of significance.