Libraries announces 'Through the Woods' Short Stories fall contest winners

Through the Woods - Step into the Unknown, fall Short Stories contest theme graphic
Credit: Penn State

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The winning submissions from Penn State University Libraries Short Stories’ “Through the Woods” fall 2021 contest have been announced. Representing five Penn State campuses, the latest writing contest encouraged students, faculty and staff across the commonwealth to submit their best woodland-themed original short stories or poetry.

"Every contest is different, and I never know what to expect. The 'Through the Woods' contest took my highest expectations and surpassed them,” said Ashton Zillhardt, Short Edition Editorial Board managing editor and honorable mention winner of two past contests. “Thank you to all the writers who made this contest what it was. I hope to see their work next semester as well." 

Each of the four Libraries Short Stories Editorial Board winners and the People’s Choice winner will receive a $100 Visa gift card. All winning entries, including nine honorable mentions, will be added to the Libraries’ Short Edition short-story dispensers, located around the University Park campus and six campus libraries, and at Schlow Centre Region Library in State College. 

The People’s Choice winner, “Into the Woods,” written by Brandon Muzyka, received the most online reader votes via the Libraries Short Stories website during the contest. Muzyka, of Moorestown, New Jersey, a Penn State World Campus graduate student studying higher education, said family has always been the inspiration for his writing.

“The moments spent reflecting on treasured memories with loved ones always take me to a calm, meditative space, allowing me to capture the essence of my ideas with words,” said Muzyka.

The Libraries Short Stories Editorial Board winners, chosen by the all-student editorial team and listed alphabetically by title, are:

  • Armillaria,” a poem by RRRadan, pen name for Michelle Paukett, a doctoral candidate studying plant pathology and international agriculture and development at the University Park campus, from Greene, New York.
  • "The Grieving Trees," a poem by Leorah McGinnis, a graduate student studying international affairs at the University Park campus, from Denver Colorado.
  • A Small Request from the Forest,” a short story by Rose Rowe, a first-year student studying environmental resource management and plant sciences at Penn State World Campus, from Nottingham, Pennsylvania.
  • Will-o’-Wisps,” a short story by Sabin Bottomstone, a senior studying writing and digital media at Penn State Berks, from Myerstown, Pennsylvania.

Honorable mentions, chosen by the all-student editorial team and listed alphabetically by title, are:

  • "Disappearing," a short story by Gus Eberlein, a second-year physics and astronomy and astrophysics student at the University Park campus, from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
  • "The Dullahan," a poem by Hermit Thrush, a doctoral candidate studying geosciences at the University Park campus.
  • "Footprints in the Grass," a poem by Memphis Doll, a senior studying veterinary and biomedical sciences at the University Park campus, from Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.
  • "Forests of Grief," a short story by Benjamin Stapleton, a senior studying mathematics and electrical engineering at the University Park campus, from Cochranville, Pennsylvania.
  • "Ghost Forests of Louisiana," a short story by Laura Guertin, professor of earth sciences at Penn State Brandywine.
  • "The Good and the Evil (It’s All the Same Story)," a poem by Emily Lang, a first-year studying comparative literature at Penn State Abington, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
  • Halloween Hack-job,” a short story by Ashton Zillhardt, a senior studying writing and digital media at Penn State Berks, from Mohnton, Pennsylvania.
  • The Reddening,” a short story by Sarah Bodnar, a senior studying English and integrative arts at the University Park campus, from Boyertown, Pennsylvania.
  • "SOS," a short story by Lindsey Combs, a receiving/necropsy technician at the Penn State Animal Diagnostic Lab, located at the University Park campus.

To read all entries from the fall 2021 contest, as well as past contest submissions, visit the Libraries' Short Stories website. Anyone with a Penn State email address and anyone from Centre County, Pennsylvania, can sign up for an account to submit original creative works to the site, as well as vote for and leave reader comments on other writers’ stories. Centre County writers not affiliated with Penn State will have their work considered for distribution from Schlow Centre Region Library’s Short Edition short-story dispenser, and some will have their work added to the University Libraries’ nine other short-story dispensers, along with other previous contest winners.

Penn State Libraries short-story dispensers at the University Park campus can be found at: 

  • Paterno Library entrance.
  • Pattee Library mall entrance.
  • Grange Building entrance at Pollock Road.

In addition, Penn State Libraries short-story dispensers also are at, or near:

  • Schlow Centre Region Library, State College, Pennsylvania.
  • Penn State Abington College Library.
  • John M. Lilley Library at Penn State Behrend.
  • Berks Thun Library at Penn State Berks.
  • John D. Vairo Library at Penn State Brandywine.
  • Penn State Harrisburg Library.
  • Lee R. Glatfelter Library at Penn State York.

For up-to-date information about dispenser access or for more information about the “Through the Woods" writing contest, visit

Questions about the Libraries Short Stories writing contests, the Libraries Short Stories online platform, or short-story dispensers’ curricular or co-curricular use, can be directed to Melissa Millar, public services coordinator for Berks Thun Library, at [email protected].