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A Letter to Leo Wins Library of Congress Award


Katie Marentette wrote a letter to Leo Tolstoy last fall and kind of forgot about it — until she found out it won the state award for the Library of Congress Letters About Literature contest.

For the contest, students had to pen a letter to an author of their choice. Katie chose Tolstoy, whose classic “War and Peace” has been described as one of the greatest novels ever written. It took Katie nearly a year to read it because it is so long — more than 1,500 pages — and she admits some language was difficult to follow.

“I love classic literature, so I stuck with it, and that definitely taught me persistence,” Katie says. “The characters felt real and left an impression on me. All of them have their own story, and I admire the way Tolstoy was able to weave so many complexities into one plot.

“It reminded me of my own life and made the author a major role model of mine when it comes to writing.”

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Katie Marentette’s winning essay

Group Collaboration Produces Surprising Sources

Her letter was an assignment for Molly Stabler’s honors English class. Stabler is big on students entering contests, and says at least half of her writing assignments involve one. “I try to make my writing assignments relevant,” Stabler says. “One way I can do that is to give my students a REAL audience (besides just me).”

She was excited about Katie’s award. “I have been having classes enter that contest for four years, and, although I’ve always had state semi-finalists and finalists, I’ve never had a student of mine win the state,” she says.

Contests Breed Motivation

Seven writing contests in the genres of persuasive letters, personal narratives and poetry were part of the assignments in Stabler’s class.

“It just gives them a genuine motivation to push themselves to elevate their writing, and the competition of it — the excitement of winning — makes the writing process a fun, energetic, full-of-potential one,” Stabler says.

That’s just what it did for Katie. “It was a confidence boost,” she says.

Katie, a sophomore, describes herself as a “totally book person.” Currently she has four going at once: “Bel Canto” by Ann Patchett, “The Red House” by Mark Haddon, “The Monsters of Templeton” by Lauren Groff and “The Octopus” by Frank Norris.

“I read a little of everything,” says Katie, whose dream is to go to Harvard and be a pediatrics doctor or a neurosurgeon.

Stabler described Katie as a “pensive” person. “She’s reflective about everything and intrigued by the world and all the details in it,” Stabler says, adding Katie “will surely make an impact on the world because of her curiosity, brilliant mind and truly authentic personality.”

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Letters About Literature Contest

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.

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