We will announce it here on our website in 2019.

Thank you all.

2017 Annual Writing Contest


“Contemporary Pilgrim, Prophet, or Unsung S/Hero.”








Click "SUBMIT" below to enter Contest.



Or mail your entry to:



Attention: 2017 Essay Contest

28 Arroyo Calabasas

Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87506


• 2000 words or fewer.

• 8.5 x 11 page size. Double spaced throughout. Pages clearly numbered.

• Arial, Courier or Times font. 12 point font size.

• Submissions accepted online, or via regular mail.

• Acceptable file types for online submission: doc, docx, rtf, pdf


What to Submit: An original, unpublished essay or epic poem about a “Contemporary Pilgrim, Prophet, or Unsung S/Hero.” You may submit more than one entry. Each entry must be accompanied by a contest fee of $20. Please make checks payable to: The Wonder Institute if submitting by mail.


When to Submit: Contest deadline is November 1, 2017. Entries must be postmarked by this deadline or submitted online by midnight.


Prizes and Publication: First Prize is a check for $1,000 dollars and publication on The Wonder Institute website. Second Prize is a check for $500 dollars and publication on The Wonder Institute website. Honorable mention(s) will be selected at the discretion of the final judge, Linda Durham. Honorable Mention entries may also be published on the Wonder Institute website.


Results: Contest results will be announced by December 1, 2017 on the Wonder Institute Website. First and Second Prize winners will be contacted by phone or email. Honorable mention(s) will be listed on the Wonder Institute Website.


Anonymous Judging: Entries are judged anonymously. Include a cover sheet containing essay title, author’s full name, address, phone, and email. Your name must not appear on the essay itself.


Privacy: Your privacy is assured. We will not sell your information to third parties.


Copyright: By submitting your essay, you give The Wonder Institute a non-exclusive license to publish your work online.


Final Judge: Linda Durham.





2016 Contest Winner

 What Is Your Life's Purpose?


We are proud to announce the winner of this year's Essay Contest. First Prize was a check for $1,000 dollars. Entries were judged anonymously by The Wonder Institute's panel of readers: François-Marie Patorni, Laura Hayes, and Carlos Beuth. 

Final Judge was Linda Durham.

"For the Day I Retire my Rifle"

by Michael Perrone



My path is selfish but honest; crude but empowering; bleeding but healed; skeptical but free. It carves itself into the sharp rocks of unpaved roads. Holds itself to a standard my soul must judge.


It's a path shaped not only by its smoothest passages, where past happiness feeds the nostalgia of an aged soul, but also by pits as deep as the cratering charges I've been trained to set off. Holes as deep as the foxholes I've dug. Voids I have found purpose in. Voids I must fill not with the trigger of my M16 but with the words I type.


Not freedom protected with chains and ignorance. Freedom protected with questioning, with thought, with skepticism, with passion enough to discover the humanity buried not in the lure of blinded ideals, but in the depths of my soul.


I'm a US Army Officer. I joined to serve. With sadness and concern, I reveal that the words I write here are of a greater service to freedom than the institution I joined.


I express my thoughts to plead with the ghost of our humanity slowly vanishing.


My purpose is to live the message I express here in everything I write.


Which brings us to malevolent contradiction. In a society claiming to be founded on the principles of democracy, freedom of expression, independent thought and initiative, and the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, the very institution that has been put in place to defend these principles is a harbinger of their demise.


Our humanity is poisoned by fear and materialism. Compassion gives way to skepticism and hate. We are losing track of what it means to be human.


The US Army is a microcosm of the country this country is becoming; crippled by violence and inequality; deformed by shallow pursuits; afflicted by perversely vicious thoughts, which once justified by ignorance, are mistaken as ideals... It's a microcosm of the humans we are becoming. Selfish. Bored. Insensitive. Numb. Our house is not simply divided. It's poisoned.


The US Army as individuals is no more evil than individuals themselves. None of us are black and white pillars of good or bad. We're soldiers. We're sons. We're daughters. We're imperfect. We're human.


The US Army as an institution has no room for humanity. It makes a conscious effort to appeal to our basest instincts and brainwash us. It's a business; a mafia of death. It cannot truly fight for peace. Peace hurts its bottom line. It holds a legitimate interest in keeping our people afraid and ignorant. Freedom of expression, individualism, compassion, the constitutional rights it has sworn to defend... the modern Army sees all of these as a child's fantasy. It sees the world as a cruel place where saints vanquish demons. Any belief to the contrary, especially within the institution, means facing a mob of cruel judgment.


Human history, rather than enforce the idea that things are the way they are, with no hope for change, should bring to light the stubborn severity of the mistakes we're repeating. We make the error of believing we're doomed to repeat history's vicious cycle over and over again; of believing the consequences can be no greater than they've been up to this point.


But an antelope can only run in a circle so many times. At some point, he has to take a leap in a different direction if he's to avoid being devoured.


We're on the verge of being devoured by greed and laziness. Our repeated mistakes, exacerbated by the increasing polarization of society and the technology available to us, might be taking us to the verge of humanity's extinction. By that, I don't necessarily mean human beings as physically present beings, but rather our shared soul. We're on the cusp of rupturing the ligaments of our essence, of bringing about consequences beyond grasp.


We must move beyond the notion of a “country's interests.” I don't seek to discredit the idea that everyone must look after their own. Rather, I wish to point out how distorted our understanding of “our own” is. Our own's not just our back yard. It's not just our country. It's every human being.


There's a time for war, unfortunately, just as there's a time for all things. It may come. When it does, we must fight not to win, but to end it. Not to kill the enemy, but to save our brothers. Not to bestow freedom, but to realize no freedom can come of it. There's no freedom in war. No freedom in a society that thrives on it.


When our guns remain permanently raised, our view of life becomes trapped in the imprisoning limits of the sight picture. Nothing but the circle and the iron sight.


Our thoughts become consumed in gun shots. Our soul becomes consumed in artillery explosions.


We're systematizing mass killings.


We must lower our guns and think, lest the saints go marching out.


My purpose is to always forgive myself just enough to move on. Serve my time as a soldier until my oath is fulfilled. Hopefully come out of it all alive and with the sanity to be honest with myself. Dare to be myself rather than chase some societal, mass media influenced fabrication. Write. Write until the right words come out. Write until my soul's blood flows through every letter of every page more than the blood flowing out of war torn bodies. Write something that speaks. Too much self help-spiritual-cliched-uplifting-drama out there. Not enough raw emotional honesty.


Where's the soul? Where's the art? Where's the suffering, the love, the Armageddon? Where's the chaos, the melancholy, the drama? Is it lost in your congestion of social media and texting?


I want to find a way to start living as me. To start writing as me. With a pen mightier than a sword. With all the horror, self-destruction and unhappiness it may entail. Rebellious and selfish. An individual untamed. Scarring the paper with my ink. Rendering it docile to the might of whatever I choose to sing. Trusting that out of the chaos and experimentation, unpretentious and honest, will burst forth my voice clear with character, no longer escaping from myself, no longer chasing the phantoms of doubt. 


To choose the suffering of being me over the comfort of being someone else; over the conformity of choosing a world in which I must die to be alive. Moronic oxymoron. A lot of us want to believe we're doing the right thing, choosing the selfless way, the mature way. Maybe you are, yet maybe you're lying to yourself. Maybe waking up at 4 AM every day, putting your uniform on to the perfect standard, and doing what you're told's the easy way out. Who's to say being an individual's wrong? Or easy? It's what the Army tells you. But maybe that's because individuals aren't as easy to manipulate. They don't wake up in the morning and shoot people in the face as if it were a matter of fact. They don't numbly obey orders to kill.


Being an individual requires thought and suffering; taking an honest look at yourself outside the realm of what Fox News and Hollywood has fed you.


I have a point, and that's all anyone has. You have to find your own point.


In the mean time, I write the way a wife smells a bouquet of flowers on her anniversary. I write the way a lost soul slits their wrists to feel pain. I write the way a soldier downs that last drop of whiskey before closing time.


I write because besides the life I have now and the eventual death to come, it's the only certainty of my existence.


I write for Bohemia's lost souls and free spirits. May they escape the traffic and stay lost on the exit to her magnificently bittersweet sanity.


2016 Essay Contest Winner:

Michael Perrone

We asked our Winning Author to tell us a little about himself:

I'm a proud US Army Officer. I love the ideals this country stands for, and I take pride in defending them. This essay is about the sudden turn our society seems to be taking away from those ideals, towards hate and ignorance. I grew up in numerous countries, the son of US Diplomat, and graduated from University College London. After I graduated with a Bachelors in Economics, I decided I didn't want a corporate job like most of my classmates were getting. I longed for adventure. I longed for something to write about. A few months later, I enlisted in the US Army.

First Prize


Contest Finalists

Among the scores of outstanding submissions, seven were deserving of Special Mention, according to Final Judge Linda Durham. They are:


Life's Purpose by Laura Carroll

Out Of And In Spite Of by Dejan Lukic

The Story Of A Chameleon by Iris Graham Vasquez

My Life's Purpose  by Rosemary Smith

The Purpose Of My Life? by Kathy Stevens

Why? A Short And Sweet Guide To Life by Christine M. Chirichella

What My Life's Purpose Is by Sean Chae

2015 Contest Winner

on the topic of: A personal experience of Awe and Wonder

For last year's Essay Contest we invitied writers to submit essays on the topic of “a personal experience of awe and wonder.” First Prize was a check for $750 dollars. Entries were judged anonymously by Final Judge Laura Hays, author of Incarnation published by Terra Nova Press.


We received many high-caliber entries and enjoyed reading all of the submissions that came in from writers all around the world. It really moved all of us here at The Wonder Institute to realize that we had inspired such fine writing on a topic that we like to ponder: the Wonder and Awe of life. In the words of our winning author: "Being open to wonder means paying attention to spiritual muscle."  We invite you to focus your attention and exercise your spiritual muscle while reading this year's Winning Essay!

-Carlos Beuth, Project Manager.

"The Winning Essay for 2015, The Yellow Linewas outstanding on several fronts: language; message; intelligence; breadth; spirituality; story and fluidity. It captured the essence of awe and wonder in the author's moment of grace story about a pair of hummingbirds.


To all who sent in your essays to our contest, thank you for your thoughtful writing . We are most appreciative of your participation in The Wonder Institute's Annual Essay Contest."  

-Laura Hays, Final Judge.

“The Yellow Line” 

by Beneth Goldschmidt-Sauer


Once when I was driving away from ruin, and thought I was ruined too, I looked out the car window and saw geese surging up from a pond:  the blue surface, broken, four geese, water cascading from their wings in dazzling sheets in the sunlight.  In that instant I thought, “Words can sustain me.”  And I was right.  Words are the angels, terrible and beautiful, that have always saved me.


From vision to verb:  The distance between experience and words is a marvel, a synaptic leap.  Why the impulse to articulate those moments of pure realization— geese break free from gravity, and so have I—or the more prosaic moments, in the grocery store, perhaps, letting the sound wash over you, feeling a part of something, even if it is just the desire to find a tomato that smells like its own long birth?  The graffiti at Pompeii, which I visited for the first time this summer, includes a notice of a missing copper pot and the amount of reward for its return, but also inscriptions like “Once you are dead, you are nothing.”  The latter, written in the interior of a house, haunts me.


Was it the malaise of 4:00 a.m., when the mind seizes on all the missed opportunities and catalogues them obsessively, or was it something larger, the scent of mortality? We can’t know.  In any case, it was written and it remains, preserved by the searing heat and ash which likely killed its writer.


Nothing?  My mind, finical, argues with the unknown author’s assertion, for his words echo for us even though the person who had the thought, and then felt the imperative to scratch it into the wall, is gone.  Our desire for permanence, for impressing our identities onto the  world, was everywhere in evidence as I traveled this summer, from Pompeiian graffiti to the selfie-stick, brandished in bouquets by vendors in every piazza.  The anonymous lament asks us to imagine the writer, and to identify in his—or, if she had an indulgent father and had learned to write, her—dilemma, creating a chain of imagination which stretches over nearly two thousand years.  But the selfie-stick?  To photograph oneself in front of Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” as a substitute for actually looking at the sculpture is a botch.  See the gleam of marble, think about the desperation at the loss of the human world in the movement of Daphne’s arm and neck, and be transformed—feeling deeply, we can articulate something about the awful moment, and be forever, minutely, altered.


As the great seeker Simone Weil wrote, “Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.”  When we focus in these transcendent moments—watching the geese, seeing their flight in words; willing the tomato to ripen—we are in cahoots with the ineffable.  (Some etymologists think that “cahoots” originated with the French cahute, or hut, so in those moments, we are sharing the hut with something larger than we are.)  The eighteenth-century poets called this the “Sublime,” but from Sappho to Whitman, and further, observers of the world have endeavored to experience and express the feeling of awe, of recognition.  When the experience lapses, we are bereft:  Whitman’s “O Me!  O life!” And yet it returns, when we least expect it—as we leave an abusive relationship, perhaps.


Moments when the awe fails us are increasingly common and increasingly public.  Last week, I watched two young journalists shot to death on live television.  Who has words for that?  Who has words for the acres of ivory collected and destroyed to discourage would-be poachers?  For the demagoguery of our Presidential campaign, still so far in the future yet startling us daily with new omissions of compassion?  For the bankruptcy of creed, from the NRA to the Westboro Baptist Church?  But as Andy Parker, father of journalist Alison Parker, says, “We cannot be pushed aside.”  The imperative to witness, speak and to effect change cannot be denied.  This is as true of our spirits as it is of communities.


In the meantime, what do we do with our despair, and how—when in the slough of CNN— do we open ourselves to the wonder that permeates our world?  Earlier this summer when I was fresh-on-vacation and reeling from exam-grading and the Common Core, I heard some thwaps on my window.  Outside, I found not one but two hummingbirds on the step, stunned, panting, tongues uncoiled  in distress.  I cried, and picked them up, one in each hand.  I watched them:  their iridescent throats, throwing back the June sun; their so-small feathers, lifting with their staccato breaths; their tiny feet, curled in my palm.  They weighed as much as a handful of warm air. We sat for many minutes.  Then, suddenly, one rose from my cupped hand and hovered for several seconds in front of me before veering off into the rhododendron.  Moments later, the other followed.  There were two drops of blood on the granite step.


That was awful, and awe-full.  Most likely, I will not experience that again in my lifetime. I’m not religious, but the language is handy:  When I use the phrase moment of grace, most people understand the shorthand—that grace is an opportunity to feel the presence of something beyond ourselves and the incessant voices about the terrible mess we are making of things.  The moment with the hummingbirds was a moment of mercy:  Forget CNN; observe the hummingbird and his benediction as he lifts himself off your palm and faces you, whirring.  Flannery O’Connor, whose voice is a tonic for these times, wrote that “All human nature vigorously resists grace because grace changes us and change is painful.”  Being open to wonder means paying attention to spiritual muscle, like any exercise which makes us stronger.


Those years ago, my self had become as small and stunned as a hummingbird that’s flown against glass.  Driving away from that dark house was a leap of faith, but it wasn’t until I saw geese lift themselves off of water that I felt hope.  They were like a dream of myself which I simultaneously saw in words, as if each sweep of wings were an ink-stroke.  I can’t explain it:  I both dissolved and was never more myself.  Shaken, I had to pull over to the side of the road and open the window to let the chill air remind me that I had skin, and what it was for. Once I got back on the road, the yellow seam in the center, freshly-painted, became the first lines of the first poem of a new life.

2015 Essay Contest Winner:

Beneth Goldschmidt-Sauer


We asked our Winning Author to tell us a little about herself:

"I am fortunate enough to be a high school English teacher in Brattleboro, VT, where I learn from my students daily.  In my thirty-plus years of teaching, my favorite class—if I had to choose—is Mythology, because myths keep “awe and wonder” on the front burner.  I am a mother of a college junior, and my partner and I have a five-year-old, which is a joy and the cause of the dark circles under my eyes.  Writing is usually something I do late at night or very early in the morning, so in the dark, and I am surprised and honored that this essay has come into the light.  Many thanks to The Wonder Institute for sponsoring this contest, and for the prompt, which made me say, “Hmmm….,” and start writing."

First Prize


Contest Finalists

We received many outstanding submissions. Seven deserving of Special Mention, according to Final Judge Laura Hays are:


Lunacy by Bruce Berger

Linked by Allison Emily Choe

Resurrection by Jane Candia Coleman

Falling Like an Artist by Sandra Filippucci

Loving Librada by Olga Garcia Echeverria

The Life Aquatic by Jill Koenigsdorf

Fourteen by Anna Scotti

Share this page with your friends: