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Barnhardt an Inspiring 'Telling Women's Stories' Winner

Published Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Kristen Barnhardt
Kristen Barnhardt

Kristen Barnhardt, sophomore Disability Advocacy in New Media major, is this year’s winner in SMSU’s “Telling Women’s Stories” creative writing contest.

There were 10 entrants in this year’s contest, each of whom could submit up to 10 pages of creative writing that focuses on women.

Barnhardt submitted three pieces: an essay, a short story, and a poem.

Her essay, "Being Dorothy," is based on the story of one of her acting experiences. Due to unexpected circumstances in the summer of 2016, she auditioned for a role in the all-abilities play, “The Wizard of Oz,” from a hospital room. She came away with the role of Dorothy, a character with a positive outlook on life. Barnhardt battles depression and borderline personality disorder, and found the upbeat role a meaningful challenge. “’Being Dorothy’ is about the entire experience, and how it changed me as a person,” she said.

“Chalk Dust” is a nonfiction short story that explores a social worker’s perception of a home investigation. “The story is what goes through her mind before she enters a home,” Barnhardt said, “I wanted to show the social worker’s perspective and the emotional distance she has to have in that line of work.”

Finally, her poem, “Things You Will Never Read in Cosmo,” expresses Barnhardt’s thoughts about wheelchair sexuality. “I was venting my frustration with not finding advice relevant to me in a magazine that claims to cater to all women. You’ll never see an article about ‘hot wheels’ — you can’t just be you, you only matter in connection to an able-bodied person,” she said.

A Sioux Falls, S.D. native, Barnhardt has been telling stories since she was a small child making up new worlds with her younger brother, Joseph. Her parents, Bonnie Dvorak and Brad King, and sisters Stella and Violet were eager listeners.

She continues to write about whatever life throws her way. “I wrote a poem about John Herndon (the recently-deceased SMSU wheelchair basketball player), about wanting to know him better,” she said, “and it helped me work through his loss.” Barnhardt credits English Professor Marianne Zarzana for encouraging her to write when she is upset.

Professors Julie and Ben Walker have also been more than professors for her, supporting her and helping “craft my wild ideas into something to show.”

Barnhardt continues to find meaning in writing. “My feet can’t take me where I want to go, but writing can take me where I want to go,” she said. “I can experience things through writing that I wouldn’t otherwise.”

After graduation, Barnhardt hopes to incorporate her loves of writing, acting, and talking to people with a job in the disability advocacy field. Eventually, she plans to earn her master’s degree in disability studies and become a professor.

Barnhardt doesn’t limit her extracurricular activities to writing. She is the public services manager for the SMSU Forensics team, and a member of the English Club and Lutheran Campus Ministry. Barnhardt also serves as president of the SMSU Access Association, a club she helped restart over the past year which provides fellowship and education for students with disabilities and those interested in learning about them.

Barnhardt was overwhelmed when she heard she had won. “It helped prove that I’m on the right track in what I’m doing,” she said. “People are obviously listening to what I am saying, the messages I want to share are going to get out there. It shows it’s ok to voice my opinion on these topics.”

This is the eighth time that the SMSU Women’s Studies Committee has sponsored the competition, which is open to all SMSU students, male or female. Entries have the author’s name removed before the judges, who are volunteers from the committee, see them.

Lozililo Moyo, a December 2016 Biology graduate, won second place for her essay entitled "From Zero to Hero." McKenzie Swanson, a junior English major from Marshall, Minn., received third place honors for her story entitled "Breathe."

As the top winner, Barnhardt will receive a $75 gift certificate.

Barnhardt and the other winners will read their pieces at the award ceremony, scheduled for Thursday, March 23 at noon in the William Whipple Gallery. The reading is part of the celebration of Women’s History Month, and the public is welcome to attend.


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