CU-CitizenAccess.org reporter wins creative writing award

Darrell Hoemann/CU-CitizenAccess.org

CU-CitizenAccess.org contributor and University of Illinois alumnus Robert Holly recently won a creative writing award for his in-depth coverage of a congregation in Bristol Park.

He is set to be honored Saturday during a College of Media reception.

The Marian and Barney Brody Creative Feature Article Writing Awards are given by the Department of Journalism at the University of Illinois each year to the three students who have reported and written the best feature articles in a journalism class in the last 12-month period.

Holly graduated in August with a master’s degree in journalism from the College of Media.  His award-winning article was the result of a long-form writing class lead by former Washington Post Magazine editor and University of Illinois journalism professor Walt Harrington.

Holly’s story “is a poignant rendering of the last days of The New House of Prayer Church, which is scheduled to be demolished during an urban renewal program in Champaign’s Bristol Park neighborhood,” Harrington said.

Holly won second place for his article “Can these bones live?”

 It was printed in The News-Gazette last summer and published on the paper’s website as “Bishop seeks life for his church despite bleakness of neighborhood.” 

The awards are funded by a generous endowment provided by alumnus Marian Brody. Articles are judged on depth and texture of reporting, use of detail and description, narrative flow, creation of vivid scenes, thematic point, mastery of style, language and tone and general excellence. Three writers are selected and awarded cash prizes from amounts of $1,000 to $2,500.

Aske Denning and Sean Neumann were named winners also.

“Bob doesn’t focus on the politics or even the value of the city’s plan but, instead, delves into how the little church and its Bishop, Morris Paul Lockett, serve the church’s small and poor congregation, evoking the important role the church plays in bringing hope to the people of its community and the sadness that comes with knowing that the church will be no more,” Harrington said. 

“Bob ends his story with Bishop Lockett’s firm determination to continue his ministry somewhere else, even if his congregants must meet in his own living room in Ehlers trailer park,” he said.  “Bob beautifully captures the idea that a church is not only a physical building but also the faith, hopes, needs and dreams of the people who occupy its pews.”

Since graduation, Holly has worked as a reporter for CU-CitizenAccess.org, overseen by Brant Houston, Professor and Knight Chair in Investigative Reporting.  This award-winning online news and information service is nationally recognized for its focus on investigative and enterprise coverage of social, justice and economic issues in East Central Illinois. 

Holly also is an investigative reporter for the Midwest Center, a nonprofit online newsroom that covers agribusiness and related issues regionally, nationally and globally.

In addition, Holly works for Walt Harrington as a research assistant, helping with Harrington’s upcoming book “Acts of Creation: America's Finest Hand Craftsmen At Work.”

Robert Holly can be reached at RobertWHolly@InvestigateMidwest.org or on Twitter @robertwadeholly.