When Brian Ownbey was a freshman at UNC-Wilmington, he decided he was going to be a writer. So he took an entry-level creative writing course. "The instructor's comments were brutal," he says. "I had a hard time stomaching his critiques and he was a pompous ass, but he was also a great writer. I quit writing for a year or two and one day while reading Cannery Row it hit me. All his comments and suggestions made perfect sense. I went back to work and this jackass professor really challenged me and coached me and became a close friend."
Ownbey went on to earn an English degree and an MFA in poetry from Bowling Green State University, just in time to realize that he was sick of the writing life. "I felt that I didn't have anything more to say, so for seven years I just forgot about writing and focused on buying and selling antiques," he says. "With writing you rarely know where you stand. Is your work strong? Will someone publish it? Will someone even read it? I like instant gratification and with writing it may take years of revisions and zillions of rejection letters just to get a single poem or story published."
After years of not writing, Ownbey's wife encouraged him to start again, and a friend suggested he enter the Independent's poetry contest. "So here I am again," he says. "I hope to pursue writing again. I've got some things to say."
Ownbey currently runs Father & Son Antiques in downtown Raleigh, but before he became (as he calls himself) "the white Fred Sanford of Raleigh," the accomplished writer had been published in Southern Poetry Review, Seattle Review, Tar River Poetry Review, Hawaii Review, and the New Virginia Review, among others.
Judge James Applewhite was impressed with Ownbey's poem, which deals with his feelings about his mother's death from cancer and his grandmother's dementia. "Like 'Route One, Central Florida, December 2, 2001,' 'Familiar Strangers' is also in some ways a landscape, but one very much psychologized," Applewhite says. "The metaphoric leaps and connections in this poem are vivid, strange and powerfully convincing. This poem, originally and movingly, mixes the real and the imagined."