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Return to Ithaca
At age 18, my elder son Rion enrolled in Cornell University’s School of Architecture with a future full of promise. At age 22, he committed suicide. My wife Susan and I had missed the latest critical warning signs. Yet the red flags were there all along: his social angst and anxiety through adolescence, his inner demons that continued to plague him in college, the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, the failed suicide attempt. We believed him afterward when he adamantly promised he would never try it again. We didn’t fathom that he might change his mind—yet ultimately he did. Return to Ithaca (87,470 words) depicts our family’s journey through the disabling, and in this case, devastating experience of mental illness. The memoir is told through our eyes as Rion’s parents, and it includes a chapter in which his younger brother Winston opens up and reveals long-buried feelings about his brother’s death and the aftermath. Essentially, the story is a testament to the perseverance of ordinary people trying to navigate the tenuous yet precious odyssey of life.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 9.50 out of 10


Idea: This emotional memoir moves at the perfect pace to tell this sad, enlightening, and powerful story. David and Susan Wright's individual pieces meld perfectly to introduce the various plot points, treating both the sad and insightful moments with equal time and reflection.

Prose/Style: The authors’ separate voices can each be "heard" in the prose, yet they also meld beautifully to bring readers a narrative that's compelling and fully formed. Even the devastating moments at the center of this memoir are written about with grace, emotion, and care.

Originality: David and Susan Wright's experience is lovingly shared and explored. Yet, with their varying voices, they manage to make their son's story not his alone, but one that shines light on how an experience like this affects an entire family. This memoir is heart-wrenching and enlightening in equal measure.

Character Development/Execution: David and Susan Wright paint comprehensive "pictures" of Rion, Winston, and themselves. Each character in the family is complex and presented as fully formed. The characterization of their eldest son is especially nuanced and detailed. This presentation makes the main plot of the story even more emotionally resonant.

Date Submitted: January 25, 2021