Recently, Samantha Smith, a middle school student from our town, placed as a Washington State champion in The Library of Congress’ national contest Letters About Literature. Each year, students are asked to write a letter to their favorite authors, living or dead. The winning essays from each state are sent to Washington DC and national winners are announced by the Library of Congress in May. You can read my state’s 2012 winners here and the national winners from previous years are also online.
As an author, you bet I like this contest, which encourages students to think about what they’ve read and how it affects them, but takes it a step further, also suggesting authors enjoy learning how their work has made a difference. Hearing this directly from readers rather than through the filters of reviewers and publishing critics does mean a lot.
After you’ve read a few of the students’ letters, think about an author you would write to. What is at the heart of your wanting to connect with this writer? Did something in their work change your way of being? Give you permission to be more of who you are? Impact those you love or live with? Make you laugh at a time in your life when the ability to laugh was especially important? Did their writing encourage yours? Jot down anecdotes you’d like to tell the author you would like to write to, anecdotes you believe the author would understand and enjoy because they show the effect of their work on others.
Samantha Smith, The Washington State winner from my town, began her letter this way:
Dear Julie Anne Peters,
Every teenager goes through phases; phases with our style and our preferences in general. Sometimes we even start to question our orientation. Maybe we’ll notice that the girl across from us is hot, even though we, too, are girls. That’s what happened to me. I was no longer looking at a girl and thinking, ‘Oh, I like her top.’ I was looking at her and wondering about going on a date with her, even though I still liked boys. I didn’t go shout it from the mountaintops, but I did look for a good book to hide myself in. While scouring the library I fell upon your book: Keeping You a Secret.
She ends her letter confirming her belief that finding the right books helps one solve problems and live authentically:
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