The Fresno State Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative Writing announced West Virginia author Rachel Rinehart as the winner of the 2016 Philip Levine Prize for Poetry book contest, which includes a $2,000 award and publication of her first book, “The Church in the Plains.”

The Creative Writing Program sponsors the national prize, which honors the late poet and professor emeritus Philip Levine — a founder of Fresno State’s poetry writing program, a 1995 Pulitzer Prize winner in poetry and the 2011 United States poet laureate.

Peter Everwine, the Levine Prize final judge and award-winning poet and Fresno State professor emeritus, chose Rinehart’s manuscript as the winner from 815 submissions. Everwine wrote of the winning entry:

“‘The Church in the Plains’ is anchored in stories of New World immigrants (here, German Lutherans) from the 1800s to the present, but to read Rachel Rinehart’s collection as a historical chronicle would be like reading the voyage of Odysseus as a guide to Ithaca. Her poems, often voiced by women from the perspective of birthing and ‘this tearing of curtained flesh,’ remind us that the great power of poetry, in the words of a truly gifted storyteller, can transmute events and lives into the wondrous and terrifying: a harrowing marriage to Siamese twins; a baker of funeral pies, each appropriate to the deceased; a man who dreams his wife is a buzzard; a vixen prowling the night woods merges with the Latin name of a constellation overhead. As the book evolves, the ancestral language and character of the church give way to newer generations, but Rinehart’s vision is one of both loss and renewal. In an early poem a child is buried at sea; in the last, a child is the sole survivor of a car wreck. Even then, the undercurrent of darkness and sorrow is present: ‘Like Christ, we, too, crawl into an ever-weltering world,’ while a wind from the plains rises to a Kyrie — Lord have mercy unto us — as prayer and benediction. Rachel Rinehart has given us a truly beautiful, earthy and fabulous book.”

Rinehart grew up in Chuckery, Ohio, and she currently lives in Barboursville, West Virginia. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including Prairie Schooner, Massachusetts Review, Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, Beloit Poetry Journal and Colorado Review. She is the recipient of a 2014 AWP Intro Journals Project Award in Poetry from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

Rinehart received her Master of Fine Arts degree from McNeese State University in Louisiana, and she currently teaches English composition and poetry as a visiting assistant professor at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia. “The Church in the Plains” is her first book.

Everwine also noted two manuscripts as finalists: “A Desire for Color, for Wings” by Cindy Stewart-Rinier of Portland, Oregon, and “Leçons des Choses” by Boyer Rickel of Tucson, Arizona.

The Philip Levine Prize for Poetry is an annual national book contest open to all poets, except current or former students or faculty of Fresno State. It is coordinated by Professor Corrinne Clegg Hales as part of the university’s English 242 graduate course, literary editing and publishing. The contest offers a $2,000 prize plus publication and distribution by Anhinga Press, which co-sponsors the prize.