Home-schoolers take top prizes in state writing contest
By Kym Soper
Published: Saturday, June 9, 2012 12:01 AM EDT
Two home-schooled students won the top prizes in the Connecticut Young Writers competition, the first time that both the poetry and prose awards went to students in nontraditional schools, organizers say.
Manchester resident Emily Falkowski, 15, took top honors for prose for her story "Emergency Baptism," while Madeleine Chill, a 17-year-old from Andover, won first place in poetry for "Antlers."
They were among 20 young poets and writers honored last week at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at the Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington.
The contest is open to Connecticut writers between the ages of 13 and 18. Entries, which had to be submitted by a teacher, can be submitted as poetry or prose, which includes essays, short stories, reviews, plays, research papers, and news articles.
Falkowski and Chill each netted $750 as their award.
Ravi Shankar, the poet-in-residence and associate professor of English at Central Connecticut State University who is chairman of the Connecticut Young Writers Trust, said many excellent entries didn't make the final cut.
Falkowski, who admitted she was surprised to find out she'd been entered - and then surprised again when she won - said her winnings would likely go toward tuition when she starts taking classes at Manchester Community College next fall.
More of a visual artist, Falkowski said she only recently started writing and wants to explore that aspect of her creativity to see if there is a way to combine both.
"But I'm not sure how that will come out yet," she said with an unpretentious giggle.
Her piece, "Emergency Baptism," is a seven-page thrill ride that breathes life into fictional characters who are composites of various people she knows, painting them on the page in a tightly packed style.
The first draft was done in a day.
The hard part, she learned, is the editing process. It took two weeks to hone the edge of her words and bring the story full circle, from beginning to end.
It starts by describing a light-hearted mock baptism conducted by a small group of teens, then segues into a darker story about a troubled boy and his secret, before coming back home and linking the two story lines.
"It surprised me how hard it is because I found myself so attached to what I had written, I found it difficult to make changes," she said of the editing process.
But like all writers, she soon learned that changes can be beneficial. In this case, it helped fix structural problems that are common when merging more than one narrative, she said.
Aside from the emotional toll, Falkowski said, she is learning more every day about the writing process.
And because she is home-schooled, she and her parents direct her education.
Falkowski, who had a traditional education up until eighth grade, said she began dabbling in creative writing a few years ago when taking classes at the Green Street Coop in Middletown.
The Coop offers a variety of programs and classes for home-schooled teens and independent learners throughout the state.
"I had a lot of really great classes and met a lot of other writers there," said Falkowski, who also takes a class in debate in West Hartford and will begin taking English and art classes at MCC in September.
She met Chill, the state champion poet, at the Green Street Coop and now the two are in a writing class in Andover with four other students ranging in age from 15 to 21 that's taught by a Green Street Coop teacher.
It was the teacher, Cindy House, who submitted her essay without her knowledge.
"I didn't know she had entered it," Falkowski said of her piece. "I was just trying it out to see what I could do."
The Connecticut Young Writers Trust has awarded more than $205,000 since 1998, [affirming the work of] more than 7,300 young poets and writers.
The nonprofit organization is supported through donations from individuals and businesses and is the longest-running program devoted to young writers and poets in the state.
Students from Rockville High School in Vernon and South Windsor High School received honorable mentions in the prose categorys. Michael Bloniarz, 17, of Rockville High School won for his piece "Grand Central Station." His teacher is Victoria Nordlund.
Nicholas Bayer, 17, of South Windsor High School, was honored for his piece "Winter." His teacher is David Olio.
They each received $100.
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