The write stuff
Area students take home
Fairfield County's top writing awards
By Eileen FitzGerald Staff Writer
A freshman at Immaculate High and a senior at New Fairfield High captured the top writing prizes for students from Fairfield County in the 11th annual IMPAC/Connecticut State University System prose and poetry competition.
"Ghosts on This Island/To Fanny Cochrane Smith in the Face of Progress," earned 17-year-old Andrew Coletti the county's top prize for poetry.
Fourteen-year-old David Buchanan wrote a short story called "For You Tonight" for a class assignment, and it earned him the top prize for prose.
The two boys received $1,000 each and will compete against winners from the state's seven other counties for a trip to Ireland.
Coletti's seven-page poem was his response to a story he read for his advanced biology class in which a Tasmanian Aborigine who witnessed the genocide of her people recorded the indigenous songs she remembered from her childhood. The recordings are the only audio recordings of what is now an extinct language.
"It's a fascinating story and not many people know about it," Coletti said. "I want people to know about this great service done for history."
He called it an "enormous tragedy" that a group of people would be eliminated during the settlement of the island by Europeans, and he wanted to share that story and her effort to preserve the culture.
Coletti, who will attend Bard College in New York next year to study creative writing, said he writes all the time, but mostly science fiction and fantasy. Usually it's an interesting nonfiction story he's read that leads him to write a poem in which he can elaborate or retell the story.
"I guess it's probably the best poem I've ever written," Coletti said. "I was proud of it and hoped someone else would be able to appreciate it, at least because I was proud of it."
Pit Pinegar, a creative writing teacher at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts in Hartford, was the judge who chose Coletti over about 100 contest entrants, though she had no idea who wrote the poem until the winner was announced.
"I think it was one of the best poems by a high school student I've ever read. Nothing in the way it was presented led me to believe it was by a high school student," she said.
It was ambitious, lengthy and complex, she said, and in her experience those qualities often lead young writers to falter along the way.
"I read everything (the entries) once and ... this one stuck in my mind," Pinegar said. "His thoughtfulness and subject matter -- it was so unexpected."
Buchanan said he wanted to write about the elderly because most young people don't .
His story was a three-day snapshot of a woman's life as she dealt with the death of her husband, including her decision to end her own life.
"I had read other works by students that were good, but I didn't feel connected to the characters. I said I have to make an endearing character, someone you would be interested in reading about," Buchanan said.
He spends a lot of time with his grandparents and hears them talk about their friends moving or dying.
His teacher, Maureen Arsenault, thought his writing was helped by the experiences he has with his family, which are more sophisticated than those of many students.
"It's not book knowledge. It's life experience," she said, while adding that the nuance and cadence of his language might reflect his passion for music. "He has an innate sense of structure and appropriateness."
The two boys will attend a June 1 dinner in Litchfield with the prose and poetry winners from throughout the state. The state winners in each category will each win ... a trip to Ireland, where they will meet young writers from Europe [and Asia].
Norm Pattis, an attorney and writer who has judged the contest for more than five years, said he hopes Buchanan wins the trip to Ireland.
"I loved that story. It was about longing, loss, hope," he said. "It is one of the best stories I've ever read in the contest. I wish him all the best."
Several other students from the region reached the finals of the competition.
* Among the Litchfield County poetry finalists were Karissa Raymond of New Milford High School. n Fairfield County poetry finalists included Brianna Halek of Brookfield High School, Kyle M. Sturges and Phoebe Ermert of the Alternative Center for Excellence in Danbury, and Allison Mandeville of Sherman School.
* Among the Fairfield County prose finalists were Kaleigh Finn of Immaculate High School, Chris Fragoso of Newtown High School, and Tim Pagan and Ashley Webb of Danbury's Alternative Center for Excellence.
Contact Eileen FitzGerald
or at (203) 731-3333.
The complete prize package is as follows:
* Sixteen poets and writers are awarded $1,000 each at regional ceremonies. These young poets and writers are invited to the annual dinner with family, friends and teachers.
* Several years ago the Young Writers Trust upgraded the state champion awards. Instead of a second prize of an additional $1,000, the state prose and poetry champions -- announced at the annual dinner at the Litchfield Inn -- are awarded trips to Dublin to attend the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Dublin Writers Festival. Both state champions are accompanied by a parent. The value of the upgraded state prizes far exceeds the old prizes.
You are cordially invited to attend the
11TH Annual IMPAC-CSU System Young Writers
Statewide Ceremony & Dinner
Sunday, June 1, 2008
The Litchfield Inn and Bistro East
4 p.m. Workshops
5-6:15 p.m. Outdoor Reception Rear Courtyard
6:30 p.m. Dinner
Maya Polan, 2007 State Poetry Champion,
Freshman, Univ. of Redlands [Calif.], Writing Major
Western Connecticut State University
Master of Ceremonies
Rand Richards Cooper, Author
The Positive Downside
$35 per person*
* CHECKS TO IMPAC YOUNG WRITERS
Dinner Music By The Jen Allen Big Band
Featuring Vocalist Laura McCabe
RSVP by May 23, 2008
IMPAC-CSU System Young Writers Trust
231 Beach St.
Litchfield, CT 06759
800-814-6931 or 860-690-0211