Alumna wins prestigious 2021 Emerging Writer’s Contest

March 8, 2022 | by the Office of Marketing and Communications

Meghan O'Toole standing by a brick wall.Meghan O’Toole ’17 first thought the email she received during her lunch break was spam. The subject line simply and suspiciously said “Congratulations.” She opened it anyway.

“I literally had to step out of the office and go for a walk because I was bawling my eyes out,” said O’Toole, who majored in English at Elmhurst. “I was so happy.”

O’Toole had just learned she had won the prestigious 2021 Emerging Writer’s Contest for fiction from the literary journal Ploughshares. Her award-winning short story, “Good Food for Starving Things,” appears in the winter 2021-22 issue and on the journal’s website. In the issue, fiction judge Kiley Reid called O’Toole’s work “a deft cross-pollination concerning what it means to be a beast, and what it means to belong.”

Without giving away the plot, O’Toole said her story is about “what it means to have a divided sense of identity and culture and how to come to terms with your sense of duality of belonging and unbelonging.” O’Toole credits Elmhurst English professor Janice Tuck Lively’s support in part for her development as a writer and for the story’s evolution.

“Dr. Lively was the first person who really sat me down and said, ‘You can actually do this and you should put your energy toward this,’’’ said O’Toole, who earned a master’s in English from Western Illinois University in 2021. “It felt wonderful to have somebody I really looked up to take my work seriously but also encourage me and push me. Dr. Lively was always was there to make me rethink the way I was writing.”

The Ploughshares honor is O’Toole’s second in four years. She was awarded LitMag’s Virginia Woolf Award for Short Fiction in 2018. Writing is now firmly part of O’Toole’s life. She is a digital marketing and content specialist at Lake Forest College and is working on getting her first novel published.

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