Real Simple Essay Contest 2012

Real Simple asked, What was the most important day of your life? And more than 5,000 of you answered. Deputy Editor Noelle Howey spoke to winner Aldra Robinson of Long Beach, California, about her moving and unforgettable essay, which can be found at the end of the interview.

RS: How did you get the idea for this essay? Did you know you always wanted to write about this experience? That is, working in a hospital and witnessing tragedy as well as everyday acts of courage.
Aldra Robinson: I was watching a medical drama on TV, and the storyline reminded me of my time working in an intensive care unit. There are so many stories I could tell, but my memory always returns to one family. I turned off the TV and grabbed Real Simple. The first page it opened to noted the essay contest. It was a coincidence that, in hindsight, doesn’t seem like much of a coincidence.

It’s been almost 10 years [since the events that take place in the essay], and I’m still in awe of how that family was able to handle something so horrific with such grace. Whenever I start to feel stressed by some self-created drama or work deadline, I think of that family and remind myself that nothing going on in my world is anything close to tragic, and even in the face of truly difficult circumstances, I can choose how I will respond. I thought it was a lesson worth sharing, and even if it wasn’t chosen, it might do some good to write it.

RS: This essay can be tough to read, given its somber subject matter. Was it equally challenging to write?
AR: I hesitate to say that it was. Obviously, writing about it is nothing compared to living it. Most of my writing is humorous―or it tries to be, anyway―so writing about something that couldn’t be turned into a big joke was intimidating. When I worked in the hospital, at the end of my shift I would sometimes take the stairs instead of the elevator because I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. Writing the essay and sending it to strangers to read was akin to letting the world witness the tears. Oddly enough, it was rather freeing.

More than anything, I wanted to be respectful of the family. It’s easy to become overly sentimental when writing about something so tragic, and I didn’t want to turn their story into some cheesy after-school special or a sermon about the importance of organ donation. I just wanted to lift the family up and show the world how unbelievably powerful love is.

RS: What is your writing process like?
AR: If being neurotic and unrelentingly critical could be considered a process, that would be the one I’d claim. I write grants for a living, so in my nine-to-five universe, I use an outline. But when writing creatively (my internal censor says, “You write creatively?”), I work best when I get out of my way, ignore the incessant inner critic, and just let the words fly. I’m prone to working in spurts because I’m a procrastinator, but when it’s a topic I love, I can lose myself. I edit best after a piece is written, because I would never get anything done if I edited as I wrote. I consider a piece finished when I’ve edited it to the point where I think it is horribly written and should never see the light of day. Then I send it on its way. At some point, surrender is the only option. (I did say neurotic, didn’t I?)

RS: What book are you reading right now?
AR: It’s never just one! I’m currently reading The Green Collar Economy, by Van Jones, and Sleepyhead Assassins, by Mindy Nettifee, and I’m rereading The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, and Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. I think this is the fourth time I’ve read Under the Tuscan Sun. I want to be Frances Mayes when I grow up!

RS: Do you have any future writing plans you’d like to share?
AR: I’m working on turning my blog, Consciously Frugal (, into a book proposal about green, frugal living (wish me luck). I am also building a website called the Martyr’s Manual ( The website is basically a tongue-in-cheek guide on how to be a do-gooder. I’ve worked in the nonprofit industry all my life, have been a green consumer long before it was trendy, and was essentially programmed to save the world by my strange and fabulous parents. Obviously I haven’t succeeded yet. But I have gained some really handy tips on how to live well on less and shop in a way that supports communities, and I carry some strong opinions about the importance of letting our little lights shine. Like a gazillion other crazy souls out there, I hope to find an agent and a publisher who share my passion for all things do-gooder and let me ramble on for pages and pages. Who knows? I’d like to hope that anything is possible.

The Essay

It wasn’t the jolt of panic that shot through my spine, exploding into my chest when they wheeled her through the front door. It wasn’t the crushing fear etched on her parents’ faces as they waited, helpless. It wasn’t any moment during her week in the intensive care unit. It happened more than a year later, as I reached for a cup of coffee in the break room and saw a small newspaper clipping tacked inside a brief, handwritten note. It was then that I first understood the true nature of grace.

Lord knows it wasn’t the first time a heartbreakingly tragic tale had taken root in one of the rooms of the intensive care unit in which I spent most of my college years as a unit secretary, chasing after nurses, trying to be of some use. I thought I wouldn’t survive the first few weeks, as families sobbed next to beds filled with silent loved ones breathing with the help of machines. Even several years later, as I look back at my life in Columbia, Missouri, through my window in California, realizing that I gained enough weight while working in the ICU to equal another human being, I wonder how I managed to get through one day. I still feel a sense of awe remembering the nurses who walked those halls for years. It takes a hell of a lot of heart to handle death and disease as a routine part of the job.

She was 15 years old when a vessel ruptured in her head. There were no warning signs. No one could have predicted it or stopped it from happening. She was on a school field trip when it hit, learning about the brilliant blanket of wildflowers the Ozarks shower across the landscape each spring. One minute she was standing, laughing with her friends. The next she was on the ground, unresponsive.

We didn’t get many kids in the unit. Older patients with strokes and middle-aged folks with back surgeries were far more commonplace. Occasionally a traumatic case would come through, but rarely a child. So when a young person did roll through the front doors, everyone’s chest would tighten and a wave of sadness would flow through the corridor before we put aside our fears and went to work. Treatments for bleeding in the brain are fairly standard. But some of them shocked me, despite the fact that I had been raised by two nurses and our dinner-table conversations had often centered on stuff so grotesque, you would have thought we were discussing a Halloween haunted-house display.

By the time the girl reached us, the swelling in her head was severe. To lessen the pressure and therefore the potential damage to her brain, a portion of her skull was removed. When her parents were asked to leave so that one of the nurses could perform a task, I stood at her door and wondered about the white bandage on her head. How was it possible to survive when a portion of the very thing that is supposed to protect you has been removed?

Throughout the course of a week, everyone did what they could. Countless doctors fluttered in and out of her room. Her family clung to one another, fear turning to grief in their furrowed brows. After a barrage of treatments, it became apparent she would not make it. Staff whispered in hushed tones about how sad it was to see someone so young die like this. I asked one of the nurses why the doctors were continuing with treatments when it was obvious that she was gone. She told me that cynics will tell you physicians are simply worried about being sued, so they administer treatments and tests they know will have no effect to give the impression they have done absolutely everything possible. But most often there are circumstances where the family needs more time to come to terms with what is happening. The added activity and its explanations help them to understand the reality of the situation. When I looked into her mom’s and dad’s faces, their crushed hearts breaking through, I knew they understood.  They didn’t require a lengthy explanation from the organ-donor coordinator. After tests demonstrated that their little girl was brain-dead, they asked what the procedure was to make her an organ donor, because it was what she would have wanted. She had played in the school band, fed families at a homeless shelter during Christmas, and wanted to save every stray pet that crossed her path. I stayed overnight after her parents had kissed her good-bye and helped the organ-donation team coordinate the surgery, stopping occasionally to touch her arm and thank her.

She was from a small town in the Ozarks where community is family. On the day of her funeral, the high school was closed and virtually every student attended her service. Her friends and fellow members of the marching band played a song as all the other people present held hands. Then the service ended, and everyone went home.

A little more than a year later, I wandered into the break room to pour myself a cup of cheap, wretched coffee, the kind only hospitals dare serve, and looked to see what new, absurd jokes were on the bulletin board. (My all-time favorite: If assholes could fly, this place would be an airport.) Next to memos and a recipe for monster cookies contributed by a happy wife whose husband had survived a stroke was a handwritten note that read, “Thank you for all you did.” Tacked inside it was a softly crumpled newspaper clipping containing a poem that opened with a message from her parents: “We miss you so much. Our hearts ache for you every single day.” They had placed a tribute to her in their local paper and sent a copy of it to us.

I don’t remember much about the poem or the message it tried to convey. What I remember was the date on the newspaper clipping. Instead of honoring her on the day of her birth or death, they chose to remember her on the day her organs were transplanted. They chose to honor the day she gave others life. Four people received life-saving organs from that 15-year-old girl. Two others received essential tissues. In all, six people were transformed because those devastated parents decided to honor the giving spirit of their precious child. I do not know if I could have such courage in the face of such unimaginable pain. I could not fathom how they maintained the ability to breathe. To walk. To get out of bed. And then I remembered my grandmother, who had borne her two sons one year apart and buried them some 20 years later, one year apart. How did she endure it not once but twice?

Working in that intensive care unit gave me countless sad tales, and some unfortunate memories are burned into my brain. But it wasn’t some catastrophic moment that taught me one of the most powerful lessons of my life. I learned that unbelievably awful things can and do happen. In truth, they are not such rare, isolated events. Each of us has a story that would break someone’s heart. Despite the grief and the unfairness of it all, we keep going. There are chores to be done. There are people who still need our care. There is a life to be led.

The real lesson was found in the date on that small newspaper clipping. I realized that, regardless of the heartache, we may choose the moments in which we live.

On that day, I learned that love creates a tremendous capacity for grace. And perhaps it is that grace that keeps us moving forward.

Click here to read Parenting a Child With a Disability, the powerful runner-up in the first Life Lessons essay contest.

Cover of the Year|Business & Technology|Celebrity & Entertainment|Health & Fitness
Lifestyle|Men's Interest|Most Delicious|News & Politics|Science & Nature
Sports & Adventure|Women's Interest

Cover of the Year

New York, Oct. 3, 2011: "Is She Just Too Old for This?"
(Photographs by Danny Kim, Photo-Illustration by Darrow)

The editors deliberately chose a model representing the story at its most extreme and photographed her in the pose made iconic by Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair. Her belly was plumped with a prosthetic pillow, then carefully retouched to look real. The over-the-top poster-like cover was meant to stop consumers in their tracks—and it did."

Business & Technology

Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 10-16, 2011 "Steve Jobs 1955-2011" 

(Credit: Getty Images)

The editors’ description of the cover: "Official word of Steve Jobs' death reached Bloomberg Businessweek as the staff of over 40 was finishing a regular issue. They scrapped it and spent all night finalizing this special issue. In choosing a cover, editor Josh Tyrangiel said, ‘what we wanted to find was something that you hadn't seen before, something original, and yet something that had a little bit of tension in it.’ Tyrangiel concludes, ‘I think what we found and the way we cropped it really gets at the complicated, sometimes abrasive genius behind all the products that the world admires.’"

The New Yorker, Oct. 17, 2011: "The Book of Life"
(Illustrator: Barry Blitt)

Sometimes we have weeks or even years to prepare an image for the cover, and sometimes we have barely a few hours. When we learned of Jobs' death, there was so little time we decided to change the cover only if we found something worth it, but Blitt's sketch fit the bill. The great man himself is not shown and the gentle humor pokes fun at him, who, for all his accomplishments, still has to wait at the gate. In an image about cutting-edge technology, the fact that Saint Peter would have been at ease in a Renaissance painting added to the enjoyment.

Bloomberg Businessweek, Oct. 31-Nov. 6, 2011: "Who's Behind the Mask?"
(Illustrator: Jamie Chung)

"We wanted an illustration that would bring out the mystique of the Occupy Wall Street movement," says editor Josh Tyrangiel of the art direction for the cover about anti-leader/anthropologist, David Graeber. The magazine also looked for a symbol—so Richard Turley, creative director immediately zeroed in on a mask. Blood-red graffiti-like typography further underscores the movement's sense of drama and urgency.

Celebrity & Entertainment

People, May 16, 2011: "William & Catherine: Love Reigns!"

The editors’ description of the cover: It was the event of the year—the long-awaited wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton—and People delivered 72 pages of coverage in a special issue that went to press the next day. Featuring a shot of the newlyweds taken by a pool photographer on the steps of Westminster Abbey, this bold, impactful People cover captured the joy, excitement and romance of the day—making it a collector's item to be saved and savored by royal fans for the ages."

PEOPLE, April 11, 2011: "Elizabeth Taylor: Farewell to a Legend"
(Photograph by Philippe Halsman)

Time and again, readers turn to People for our take on the defining moments in pop culture—and this year, a major story was the death of one of the greatest movie stars of all time, Elizabeth Taylor. The iconic shot selected for the cover from the archives of famed photographer Philippe Halsman, taken when Taylor was just 16 years old, reminded fans of the beauty and grace that would often become overshadowed by her much-documented, tumultuous personal life. With few words needed, this People cover provided a truly worthy farewell to a legend.

Sports Illustrated, Winter 2011: "Swimsuit 2011"
(Photograph by Bjorn Iooss)

Landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition makes supermodels into pop culture icons. Such was the case this year for Irina Shayk, a Russian beauty whose bronze skin and green eyes have made her a Swimsuit regular since 2007. Credit must also be given to photographer Bjorn Iooss, who snapped the cover photo with the first-ever Sports Illustrated shoot. Iooss' cover shot came one year after his father, Walter Jr., snapped his eleventh Swimsuit cover.

Health & Fitness

Real Simple, May 2011: "Energize Your Life" 
(Photograph by Stephen Lewis)

The editors’ description of the cover: "Wake in a fog at 7 A.M.? Cranky at 3 P.M.? Toss and turn all night? Real Simple's May cover story presents an eye-opening timeline that helps readers get from dawn to dark (and through the valleys in-between) with more pep in their step, and more fuel in their tanks. For the cover, Stephen Lewis photographed an eye-popping bright yellow poppy, brimming with life, sprayed with water bubbles."
ESPN The Magazine, Oct. 17, 2011: "The Body Issue: Hope Solo"
(Photograph by Luis Sanchis)

It was easy to get soccer star Hope Solo focused and intense for the cover shot, as it was right after we had her watering the lawn naked on an empty street for 20 minutes. Each time Solo kicked the (on the scene) soccer ball, photographer Luis Sanchis was in position, poised to capture both the strength of Solo's body and the magnificence of her face. The result was a cover that was intense as it was beautiful and a true celebration of a remarkable body.

New York, Oct. 3, 2011: "Is She Just Too Old for This?"
(Photographs by Danny Kim, Photo-Illustration by Darrow)

The cover image for a story on new parents over 50 was one of the most talked about of the year and almost too successful in its execution—many readers did not realize that it was a photo illustration. The editors deliberately chose a model representing the extremity of the story's idea, and photographed her in the pose made iconic by Demi Moore on the cover of Vanity Fair, her belly was plumped with a prosthetic pillow, then carefully retouched to look real. The over-the-top poster-like cover was meant to stop you in your tracks—and it did.


Martha Stewart Living, Dec. 2011: "Make It a Magical Holiday" 
(Photograph by Dana Gallagher)

The editors’ description of the cover: "Shot on location in Vermont by Dana Gallagher, these hand-crafted stars on a tree were originally inspired by an Arabian star that had been given to craft editor Blake Ramsey when she was a child. The idea was to create our very own "Starry Night," to bring the idea of a celestial midnight sky a little closer to earth. The editors layered different- sized lights to give the starscape a bit of depth, making good on the issue's promise of delivering magic to the holiday season."

National Geographic, July 2011: "Cleopatra"
(Artist: Sam Weber)

How do you put a portrait of Cleopatro, one of history's most famous celebrities, on the cover of National Geographic? Her real face will forever be a mystery, but artist Sam Weber photographed a model who shares Cleopatra's Mediterranean heritage and created a cover image that brings one of history's most alluring figures to life.

Time Out Chicago, June 23-29, 2011:"Pride"
(Art Director: Stephanie Gladney; Photographer: Drew Reynolds)

For this year's annual pride cover, we chose the most iconic gay pride icon—the rainbow flag—and added an artistic, visually arresting twist. By applying the flag to a person's face, we were able to humanize the topic of gay pride. By using a technique that blends the face paint with the background colors, we were able to create a unique and striking photograph. We could have done everything in Photoshop, but to give it a more authentic, less retouched feel, we shot the model with his face painted and standing in front of the background. Some retouching was required, but we maintained the texture of skin under the makeup that makes the face really pop.

Men's Interest

GQ, Aug. 2011: "Mila Kunis" 

(Photograph by Terry Richardson)

The editors’ description of the cover: "Just open the August 2011 issue and you'll find Mila Kunis looking sultry and super-sexy. But for the cover, we kept coming back to an off-the-cuff moment caught by Terry Richardson: her sipping an iced coffee, giant grin on her face, a bit of midriff exposed, eyes flashing. On the newsstands, surrounded by the usual array of too-perfect, too-posed beauties, her GQ cover is a total surprise; it has this immediacy, it feels new. That's because Mila looks exactly like herself here: authentic, exuberant, teasing, bold, utterly at ease and absurdly, mind-meltingly gorgeous. Iced coffee never looked so hot."Finalist
Parade, July 3, 2011: "Grill, Baby, Grill"
(Photograph by Stephanie Rausser)

Stand back! When America's gutsiest grillmeister, Guy Fieri, broke out a blow-torch to blast a hunk of meat on this cover, he lived out the dreams of every backyard pit boss we know. And to ensure that readers' meals lived up to their fire-stoked fantasies, PARADE presented a Summer Eating Guide inside that was packed with enough grilling tips, techniques, and recipes to satisfy the hungriest hordes.

GQ, Jan. 2011: "Ryan Gosling"
(Photograph by Mario Testino)

Nobody embodied 2011 Leading Man more than the brash and enormously talented Ryan Gosling. In a way, we predicted his moment: Coming off a powerful performance in the indie film Blue Valentine, he had yet to fully display his range—in a comedy (Crazy, Stupid, Love), a political drama (The Ides of March), and a controversial action film (Drive) that captures the slow-boil sexiness he brings to every role. Gosling is a throwback to an old-school stardom, one that prized relaxed confidence and elegance, which is why we paired him with Mario Testino, the classiest photographer around.

Most Delicious

Everyday Food, Summer 2011: "Summer Made Easy" 

(Photograph by Con Poulos)

The editors’ description of the cover: "The luminous fruit pop on the cover of Everyday Food's ‘Summer Made Easy’ special edition makes a bold statement and sets the tone for an issue full of fresh, fun content. The graphic, colorful image speaks clearly to the mission of the magazine: Everyday Food is the handbook for home cooks, and in every issue we present familiar ingredients—fruit, in this case—in enticing new ways. The cover was photographed by Con Poulos on a light box, without shadow or embellishment, for an image as cool as the taste of an ice pop on a hot summer day."

Saveur, April 2011: "The Sandwich Issue"
(Photograph by Michael Kraus)

At Saveur we believe that every food, no matter how humble, is worthy of serious contemplation, and yet the subject of sandwiches seemed to lend itself naturally to a spirit of whimsy. Our first-ever issue devoted entirely to the sandwich in its many global iterations—from Vietnamese bahn mi to the all-American BLT—begins with studio photographer Michael Kraus's awe-inspiring photograph of the every-sandwich: two multilayered towers of bread and fillings straight from the hungry imagination of the comic book character Dagwood Bumstead. Stuffed with everything from pickles to sprouts, it's an iconic representation of a universally adored food.

Texas Monthly, Dec. 2011: "Breakfast!"
(Photograph by Randal Ford)

No matter if you call them "griddle cakes," "flapjacks," or "pancakes," they all mean the same thing: "delicious!" How could we not feature the most important meal of the day on our cover? This stack of Pecan Praline Griddle Cakes from Maxine's on Main, in Bastrop, Texas, fit the bill of being a perfect breakfast, with a wink and a nudge to Texas in a well-shaped pat of butter. Photographer Randal Ford and food stylist Paige Erin Fletcher went out to Maxine's to work their magic and came back with a mouthwatering image and full stomachs.

News & Politics

American Photo, Sept./Oct. 2011: "09.11.01" 
(Photograph by Yoni Brook)

The editors’ description of the cover: "American Photo has devoted the heart of its September/October issue to an 18-page oral history of 9/11/01 based on the recollections of the photographers who risked their lives to cover the story. Though there was no shortage of iconic images we could have used, in this case, we felt less was more. The somber black and white image (shot by NYU student Yoni Brook) projected a reflective calm and quiet emblematic of the story we were telling. After much internal discussion, we opted to remove all cover lines apart from the minimalist one you see here."Finalist
PEOPLE, Sept. 12, 2011: "The Children of 9/11"
(Photograph by Nigel Parry)

As the nation stopped to remember the tragedy of 9/11, People marked the 10th anniversary with a more hopeful note. For the fourth time, People told the stories of ten children and their moms, who were pregnant when their husbands died on 9/11; ten years on, there was still sadness but also joy, both grief and triumph over tragedy. The families gathered at a Manhattan studio—poignantly on Father's Day—for portraits taken by Nigel Parry. The cover image, of 9-year-old Lauren McIntyre holding a pendant with her father's photo, simply, and powerfully, capture the children's legacy of love.

Vanity Fair, July 2011: "Prince William and Kate"
(Photograph by Mario Testino)

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge peer joyfully from the cover of Vanity Fair's July 2011 issue in an exclusive outtake from Mario Testino's engagement portrait shoot. The overwhelming international interest in the newlyweds made them highly worthy cover subjects and emblems of British monarchy renewed. Vanity Fair pulled off a royal coup in obtaining this never-before released photograph.

Science & Nature

OnEarth, March 2011: "Arctic Fever"
(Photo Illustration by Tia Magallon)

The editors’ description of the cover: "This provocative photo illustration by Tia Magallon for our ‘Arctic Fever’ cover story addresses the environmental disruptions caused by climate change. One such consequence: melting sea ice is dissolving the natural barrier between two bear species, the polar and the grizzly, for the first time in 10,000 years. Indeed, there has been evidence of their interbreeding. So ‘fever’ refers both to rising Arctic temperatures--a symptom of an unhealthy environment—as well as a droll nod to these bears' amorous fever."Finalist
National Geographic, March 2011: "Designing the Perfect Pet"
(Photograph by Greg Schneider)

It is arguably the most extraordinary breeding experiment ever conducted. Researchers in Novosibirsk, Siberia, began, in 1959, an attempt to untangle connections between DNA and behavior by breeding foxes to encourage friendliness toward humans—much as dogs have been domesticated. Over generations the foxes have developed many traits that distinguish dogs from wild canids, including licking humans and wagging their tails. The mysterious expression on the face of National Geographic's March 2011 cover fox, captured by Greg Schneider, caught the editor's eye—and the eyes of readers: It's somewhere in the netherworld between wild and domestic.

Parade, July 31, 2011: "Cats vs. Dogs"
(Photograph by Brooke Jacobs)

They're not Lunt and Fontanne. Or Burton and Taylor. Or even Tom and Jerry. But orange mixed-breed cat Peaches and bulldog Roberta have that same sort of indefinable chemistry—the chatty tabby may be telling him off, but the big lug is clearly no pushover—making them the perfect pair to pose for our cover story about which species is superior. Disclaimer: No animals were harmed during this shoot; the models are real-life roomies.

Sports & Adventure

National Geographic, May 2011: "Above Yosemite" 
(Photograph by Jimmy Chin)

The editors’ description of the cover : "Doing what they do may seem extreme enough, but to photograph Yosemite climbers, including Alex Honnold edging face-out along the Thank God Ledge on Half Dome (because ‘it's cooler that way’), is another whole ball of equipment. Photographer Jimmy Chin, who makes a living creating images of climbers all over the world, said: ‘At the end of the day, if I got one photo that I felt truly captured Yosemite climbing, that would make me happy.’ He got one—and it landed on the cover of National Geographic in May 2011."

Garden & Gun, Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012:"Best of the Sporting South"
(Photograph by Andy Anderson)

For a sportsman, a dog is more than just a companion. He's a co-worker, a protector, an invaluable pathfinder. So who better to represent our sporting South cover package than a great dog at work in the field—a guide for a guide. Andy Anderson traveled to Wildrose Kennels in Oxford, Mississippi, to photograph Mike Stewart's exceptional retriever in action. Deke, a British Labrador retriever who also happens to be the Ducks Unlimited mascot, was a natural and this shot was an easy pick. Even dirty and smelly with a wet and ruffled coat, he exudes the intelligence and gentility of a true sportsman.

Sports Illustrated, July 25, 2011:"Hope Solo"
(Credit: Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters)

"Heart and Heartbreak" describes the U.S. women's national team's performance at the 2011 Women's World Cup, where they came back in stunning fashion versus Brazil in the quaterfinals before twice surrendering leads against Japan in an epic final. "The U.S. had just lost one of the greatest games ever played, and the emotions of that are complicated," says editor Terry McDonell. "It's reflected in the cover shot of Hope Solo, a nuanced mix of sadness and courage. She is looking back, thinking what might have been, but she is also looking to the future,"

Women's Interest

Real Simple, Jan. 2011: "Be Happier This Year" 
(Photograph by Christopher Griffith)

The editors’ description of the cover: "What is happiness? Am I actually happy? Real Simple's January cover story presents an up-close look at this elusive emotion—the history, science and art of happiness, and the secrets to feeling more of it. The sunflower on the cover, photographed by Christopher Griffith against a soft blue sky, instantly boosts your endorphins before you even read the story."Finalist
Departures, Sept. 2011: "Wild and Wonderful Things"
(Photography by Rodney Smith)

After four location scouts, three rounds of model-casting calls, two evening shoots and a final behind-the-scenes shoot at The American Museum of Natural History in New York, we were quite excited by the completion of this epic fashion portfolio by renowned photographer Rodney Smith. The image we chose for the cover closely evoked Avedon's iconic portrait of Dovima. It carried the perfect attitude, grace and sense of wonderment to be worthy of a cover entitled, "Where the Wild and Wonderful Things Are."

W, Sept. 2011: "The Fashion Issue"
(Photograph by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott)

For W's biggest fashion issue of the year, the magazine celebrated the ways women today transform themselves by showcasing actress Kristen Stewart as readers had never seen her before. Photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot transformed the 21-year-old cover model from the Twilight teenager that audiences know best into the glamorous, grown-up vixen she's becoming. "Vampires are a little dangerous—and we girls like to test ourselves," Stewart says playfully on the cover, tempting readers to pick up the issue and see for themselves.

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