Essay contest hosts Nina Ryan and Michelle Gillett are pleased to announce the winners of this year’s Essay Contest, as selected by judge Katherine Bouton.  Please join us at the Mount on Saturday March 23 at 3 p.m. for the Gala Essay Contest Reading!

And the winners are:

Ellen Bliss


First Prize: Ellen Bliss

Ellen is a “Jersey Girl” born and raised.  She has lived in Pennsylvania, California, England, and now Massachusetts.  She earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and has worked as a nanny, cake decorator, publications designer, and technical editor coordinator.  She writes for herself and to bear witness to the lives of others because, “in the end, all anyone really wants is to be remembered.”  She was delighted to be asked to read her essay at Edith Wharton’s home in Paris.  “Wait.  What?  We’re not going to Paris?”


Second Prize: Hilda Banks Shapiro and Deborah Swiatek

Hilda Banks Shapiro

Hilda taught piano at Berkshire Music School for 25 years, retiring six years ago. She was a student of Leonard Schnurr and Arthur Schnabel, and the youngest student ever at Tanglewood Music Center. She has appeared in this country and Europe in solo recitals and with orchestra. She has twelve children, twelve grandchildren and ten great grandchildren.

Deborah Swiatek

Deborah grew up in the Connecticut Valley of Massachusetts and moved to the Berkshires in 1985 with her husband and son to run their own small business.  After selling the business, she taught 7th and 8th grade English in the Berkshire Hills Regional School District from which she retired in 2011.  Presently, she lives in Ashley Falls with her husband Richard.


Third Prize: Joan Embree

Joan Embree


Joan is a mother, grandmother, former co-owner of Embree’s Restaurant, caterer, private chef, yoga teacher, gardener and wanna-be writer, happily living in Glendale with her beloved dogs and cats.