How did you find out about the contest?
My partner drew it to my attention—she’s on a human-animal studies list and I think a notice about the competition came around that way.
Why was the subject of your essay important to you?
As somebody interested in animal advocacy, I’ve always noticed that people’s feelings towards animals are very often treated as trivial, and so I began to think about the idea of sympathy and why it might be so carefully regulated in consumer cultures like ours.
Did you discover something surprising in the process of writing your essay?
Yes—how many poets write very intensely about compassion for nonhuman animals. Or at least, how many of the writers who were considered great in the 18th and 19th centuries did. On the other hand, during the twentieth century it’s equally surprising how few poets write in this way. (Although very recently this seems to be changing again)
What do you hope people will take away or learn from your essay?
I guess the main function of an essay is to invite the reader to re-think something that might have seemed straightforward, or taken for granted. I’d be delighted if an essay of mine achieved that in regard to any of the topics it mentions.
What advice would you offer to other writers on composing a successful essay?
Try starting with something concrete—a little story, a description, something your reader can relate to easily—and then use this gradually to open out your topic.
You can contact Philip Armstrong by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read Philip Armstrong's winning essay.