Each year, the Friends of the Ferguson Library encourage young writing talent with the Stamford Literary Competition.
Any student in grades three to 12 can submit work in one of three categories — fiction, nonfiction and poetry — and library president Alice Knapp says the results are always “mind blowing.”
This year, 430 students entered the contest and the winners will be honored at a special library gathering on Sunday, April 26. The honorees will receive award certificates and a gift certificate from Barnes and Noble.
“The work is just amazing,” Knapp said. “We have such talent in our schools.”
The guest speaker at this year’s ceremony will be Maureen Sherry, author of the young adult novel, “Walls Within Walls.”
The annual contest is open to students in public and private schools, with the deadline for entries the first week of February. The winning pieces are compiled into a booklet that is distributed at the awards ceremony and then becomes part of the Ferguson’s permanent collection.
“Other communities do similar contests, but what is very unique to Stamford is that we have been doing it for 30 years and it is completely underwritten by the Friends,” Knapp said.
Although you might think that movie- and TV-influenced children would favor writing fanciful fiction, the contest is often dominated by nonfiction, with a lot of memoir-style pieces.
“We get some really heart-wrenching stories. Talking about their favorite Christmas. A first day in school. Some of them are very self-aware,” Knapp said. The contest is valuable practice for writing the essays that many colleges demand as part of the application process, she said.
The competition began in the 1980s as part of the Festival of the Arts. In those days , it was open to students and adults as well. “Because it was open to everyone, it started to become unmanageable,” the library president said of reading and judging more than 700 submissions.
Over the years, the corporations funding the festival stopped underwriting the literary competition, but the Ferguson Friends took it over. To keep the contest feasible, the adult division was dropped and the entries were restricted to third- to 12th-graders.
Knapp said the judging is done by a panel of teachers, librarians and other volunteers. Fifty percent of the score is for creativity (originality and appropriateness of the topic), 25 percent is for the structure of the piece and the remaining 25 percent is for the technique (accuracy in grammar, spelling and punctuation).
The president, she said, is looking forward to the prize ceremony.
“We always have over 300 people in our auditorium and they treat it as seriously as a high school graduation,” she said.
The event reaffirms the importance of reading and writing for children. “Keeping a journal or a diary. Learning how to construct an essay. Many of the authors (who come to the library) tell us that they didn’t know they were writers until they won an award,'” Knapp said of the childhood encouragement that can be one of the first steps on the road to a life of writing.