"I hated scenic walks."
With these words, Beth Cruikshank began her short story, "If I Could Escape," using just four short words to set the tone for a tale that blends angst with a certain scary circumstance.
Cruikshank won first prize in the short story division for writers 16--18 years old in the annual Young People's Creative Writing Contest, an event sponsored by the Tulsa City-County Library.
Winners were honored at an Aug. 25 awards ceremony at Hardesty Regional Library. This year, 505 authors submitted more than 700 entries in a variety of categories.
Their efforts at times resembled the work of much more experienced writers.
Take the talented Benjamin Reyes, who won first prize for "The Bubbling Brook," a poem which began:
A happy Brook courses, its end far away
Running quite swiftly, to splash and to play
While it is moving, it sings a glad song
And bubbles and bubbles and bubbles along.
Reyes' work no doubt would make the heart sing of many a high school English teacher, but they'll have to wait a bit before he walks into their classroom. He took first place in the poetry division for writers 10-12 years old.
First-place winners in each of the categories took home $100, while those earning second place received $50 and third-place finishers $25.
Along with the cash, winners and all entrants were invited to hear some inspiration from Jacqueline Woodson, an award-winning author perhaps best known for Miracle's Boys, a book about three brothers growing up on their own in New York. Woodson visited Tulsa after being named the 2012 winner of the Anne V. Zarrow Award for Young Readers' Literature.
Not surprisingly, Woodson wrote as a youth herself. On her website, she described her earliest experiences with writing: "I also told a lot of stories as a child. Not 'Once upon a time' stories but basically, outright lies. I loved lying and getting away with it! There was something about telling the lie-story and seeing your friends' eyes grow wide with wonder. Of course I got in trouble for lying but I didn't stop until fifth grade.
That year, I wrote a story and my teacher said 'This is really good.' Before that I had written a poem about Martin Luther King that was, I guess, so good no one believed I wrote it. After lots of brouhaha, it was believed finally that I had indeed penned the poem which went on to win me a Scrabble game and local acclaim.
So by the time the story rolled around and the words 'This is really good' came out of the otherwise down-turned lips of my fifth grade teacher, I was well on my way to understanding that a lie on the page was a whole different animal -- one that won you prizes and got surly teachers to smile."
Each of the individual writers who dared enter the contest surely took their own path to achievement, and it's not hard to imagine they will have a story to tell in a few years about how they got started -- perhaps inspiring another generation of youth writers.
For now, their accomplishments have only begun to draw recognition, though a bit more may be coming their way soon.
KWGS Public Radio 89.5 FM plans to invite some winners to record their writing for possible broadcast.
Along with prizes for short stories and poetry, the contest also included categories for informal essays and short plays. Young playwrights will have some of their works presented by the Tulsa Performing Arts Center Trust at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Despite their brevity, the short plays often included deep attention to detail and dialogue, the hallmark of any good writing.
Take this mini-scene from "Buzzed" by Rachel Stromberg, set in the break room of "a generic retail store," featuring a conversation between two employees:
John: Hm? Oh, sorry, man, I just ... I saw the weirdest thing a few minutes ago.
Danny: What happened?
John: Well, I was at the register, and there was this bug, and ... it died.
(Danny waits for further explanation, but none is forthcoming.)
Stromberg won first prize in the division for 16-18 year old writers, mixing humor and insight into a few brief but memorable scenes.
The informal essay category seemed an invitation for writers to express themselves about any topic they deemed worth describing, and Sophie Katz chose to describe how being awakened on a camping trip by the howling of wolves evoked not panic but a sense of kinship with the natural world around her:
"Up before anyone else, I can imagine painting my life onto these mountains, this sky. In these early hours, I can imagine that I am alone here, just the wolves and me ... Soon, the sun will break the cloud cover. The blanket will clench into fists of fluff. All the dew will burn, sizzling off the grass, and no one will notice. People will move around, shaking sleep out of their hair. The moon will wrestle the sun from the sky and the sun will emerge again in its time. The wolves will eat. Scavengers will take what is left, and fungi will take what remains after that, metamorphosing old life into new. The flowers and trees will die, and new ones will grow, eager to seize their chance at survival. Snow will fall. And every morning, the howling will bring the world to life."
The contest surely sparked the imagination of the young writers, who have many more mornings to come and, hopefully, a few more pages to write. A complete list of the winners and links to their work can be found at teens.tulsalibrary.org.
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