By EILEEN FITZGERALD
What a time to be a young writer. There's much more support and encouragement than the scribbled red-lettered note on the top of an essay saying "you could be a writer" that fueled me.
For instance, two New Milford and Danbury High students are among 16 prose and poetry winners from each county in the finals of the 13th annual Connecticut Young Writers Competition.
The Connecticut State University System and the Connecticut Young Writers Trust contest had a record 795 entrants this year and a state prose and a poetry winner will be selected June 3 in Hartford.
And two Danbury High juniors, Grace Robles and Aishia Bello, will join select young writers from New England next weekend at the prestigious Bread Loaf Young Writers Conference on the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College in Vermont.
It's down the road from the late Robert Frost's cottage. I attended a summer program there some years ago for inspiration.
Eighteen-year-old Danbury High senior Julia Albano won the Fairfield County segment of the Young Writers Competition for her poem, "Red in the Shade of Salsa Diane."
It's a vibrant ode to all the color conjures up, from lipstick to "murderous passion."
Albano, who wrote the poem for a class, has been writing poems since sixth grade.
"I really enjoy playing with words,'' she said. Like for me, encouragement has egged her on.
"I wrote a poem for class in 8th grade and people said it was really, really good and I realized I had a niche and something I could do well," Albano said.
New Milford High School sophomore Claire Burch, 16, won the Litchfield County prose competition for the second year in the row.
This year she won with the 164-page piece called "The Neighborhood," a story about teens with an incredible story line, detail and characters.
Burch credits her ninth-grade English teacher, Judy Leonard -- her favorite teacher -- for suggesting some students enter the contest last year.
"I wanted to write something to get praise, I guess, and she volunteered to help me. It made me fall in love with writing."
It was really hard at first to let people read the story that won last year's county competition.
"I never let people look at my personal stuff," she said, but was buoyed by the praise.
Encouragement might not be necessary for some students, but it can be unforgettable for others.
For me, praise reinforced a plan hatched in childhood when I envisioned myself a writer but had no idea what it entailed.
Danbury High English teachers Deborah Casey and Evin Liljengren will accompany their students to Bread Loaf next week.
Casey said these opportunities for student writers are important.
"In a time when financial resources are so short, it's easy to cut our creative classes, but we need to do exactly the opposite," Casey said. "It's poetry, music theater, art, even culinary arts and technical arts, that engage so many students and that creative energy is what is needed in the country."
Contact Eileen FitzGerald at firstname.lastname@example.org(or at 203-731-3333.