A pair of students from two West Michigan public schools took high honors in the seventh annual Write Michigan short story contest, sponsored by Kent District Library and Schuler Books & Music.
SNN reporters met with the young scribes and got to hear the stories behind the winning stories. Winners will be honored at an awards ceremony on March 16 and will be published in an anthology by Chapbook Press, soon to be on bookstore and library shelves.
A month before Write Michigan submissions were due, freshman Colin Pearson opened a fortune cookie that read “Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you.”
Not thinking much of it, he put the slip of paper in his pocket and headed to class. Later, he recalled thinking, “I wonder if there’s anything special three months from today.”
Sure enough, three months later Colin was notified he had won the Readers’ Choice award in the teen category for his story “Back Road.”
Colin has been entering the contest since sixth grade.
“Looking back at my entries, I can definitely see how much I’ve grown as a writer since then,” he said. “When I first started writing, I did it for fun, in a notebook, including whatever crazy situation popped into my head. I entered the contest that first year simply because I already had a story written and it was free.”
This year, Colin chose to take a different approach, incorporating reverse chronological order into his story as well as a mysterious tone via a detective story.
“It took a lot of editing and story work before it was ready for submission, but the risks I took in making a potentially confusing story paid off in a lot of awesome ways,” he said. “I’m excited about having something that I’ve worked hard on published for the world to enjoy.”
Colin thinks it was in an ATYP Language Arts program in seventh grade where his writing career really took off.
“Mrs. Woods and Mrs. Baker were some of the biggest proponents in furthering my writing,” he said. “They pushed my writing skills past my own limit, and I would not have won Write Michigan without their influence.”
He also credits his parents, especially his mother and editor, Stephanie Pearson, for his success.
For Shelby Johnson, her first time entering Write Michigan turned out pretty well.
When Northern High AP Literature teacher Sean Duffie told his class about the Spanish language component, Shelby banged out a story just for the contest and took the Judges’ Choice honor this year.
Titled “La Máscara” or “The Mask,” her story is about a girl living in a dystopian, totalitarian world where everything in her life is controlled by a faceless entity, aka The Mask. When her city is bombed and the electrified fence surrounding it no longer has power, the girl escapes and finds the camp of the revolutionaries.
Shelby, a senior, has been fluent in Spanish since elementary school, having attended the district’s Spanish immersion schools since kindergarten.
“I’m good at writing, I just don’t get to do it that often,” she said. “It takes a lot of time. I’d rather be reading.”
Or signing books, perhaps? She admitted she didn’t realize until interviewed for this article that her work would be published in a print book and available through the bookstore this month and the library in April.
“That is really cool,” she said.
Every year, youth, teen and adult winners are chosen by public vote for the Readers’ Choice award and by a panel of judges for the Judges’ Choice award. Voters and judges choose winners from the top 10 semi-finalists. The top honor in each category receives a $250 cash prize, and a Judges’ Choice runner-up in each category receives a $100 prize.
Students from local public schools to be named finalists this year are Anneke Anglin, Central Woodlands ⅚; and Eleanor Barrett, East Grand Rapids Middle School. Anneke and Eleanor’s work also will be published in the anthology.
Michelle Boisvenue-Fox, KDL’s director of programming, outreach and collection services, said there were 669 entries in the teen category and 320 in youth this year. For the Spanish category, added to the contest three years ago, there were 119 entries.
With many Write Michigan winners, it is their first published experience, Boisvenue-Fox said.
“So we like to think that we are growing writers and encouraging more future publishing from these authors,” she said. “At the awards ceremony, it is great to see the authors mingle and network with one another, talking about their experiences. It’s also very heartening to watch our youngest authors learn to do their signature as they autograph their stories.
“These are real authors, and we want them to feel special,” she added. “It’s important to the library that we are a part of their writing experiences.”