For Ferris High School senior Conor Closson, things changed after he read Anne Rice’s “Interview With a Vampire.” Beforehand, Closson said he wasn’t a big fan of reading or writing, but while reading the book, something clicked, and he began reading more and putting pen to paper.
That effort has paid off, as Closson was recently named the winner of the Creative Writing Contest Just for Spokane High School Students sponsored by Writers in the Community of Eastern Washington University and Spokane Arts. Closson won first place with his nonfiction piece “Why I Do the Dishes.” In his essay, Closson shares how therapeutic washing the dishes can be after a long day.
Closson won an Amazon gift card, a Writers in the Community T-shirt, notebook and pencils, and his piece will be published in InRoads, an anthology printed by EWU. The Creative Writing Contest Just for Spokane High School Students was the creation of Writing in the Community, which is part of EWU’s MFA program.
“The basic idea is to inspire creativity in high school students and to build a community of writers,” Emalee Gillis, student director of Writers in the Community, said. “In fact, that’s one of the important parts of the program is I provide individualized feedback to each and every student who applied and talk to them about their story and what’s working and what’s not working, and in that letter, I say ‘Welcome to the community of writers.’ ”
Entries could be either fiction or nonfiction, no more than 1,500 words. Entries were judged on individuality or freshness of the subject matter, maturity of thought and approach, understanding of how fiction and nonfiction forms work, originality of insight into people or situations, and mastery of the sentences and art form, syntax, grammar, spelling and punctuation.
After hearing about the contest from his English teacher Megan Harrison, Closson decided it was the perfect place to start sharing his writing. “I have written plenty of stuff on my own time,” he said. “I haven’t let anybody read it, but I’ve written. Then I heard about the contest, and it sounded like the perfect place to start, came at the perfect time, and I just started writing something.”
Closson estimates it only took him a couple of days to write the piece but weeks to brainstorm and revise. He settled on his topic through a misunderstanding on his part. “I was under the impression that I was only able to write essays for the contest, and I had never written an essay before,” said Closson, who typically writes fiction and says horror is his favorite genre.
“I had no idea what to do, so I went around and I read some essays I had found by chance, and I got the general idea that it’s supposed to be something personal and informative to other people. That was my rough understanding, and I thought about something that was therapeutic to me, and that’s washing the dishes, so I decided to go for that.”
Natalie Kusz, associate professor of creative writing at EWU, judged the 61 submissions, which came from students from Spokane high schools and the Structured Alternative to Confinement School. Kusz praised Closson’s essay for demonstrating “both knowledge and understanding of all the right elements,” including fresh vs. stale subject matter, sentences and the art form, and how writing an essay or sorting through one’s thoughts for expression works.
She ended her critique with “Bravo!” Gillis, too, enjoyed Closson’s essay. “It’s such an appropriate essay for right now,” she said. “Everyone has so many things that are out of their control. It’s the calmness of doing the dishes and the centering that can bring.”
Closson said he almost fainted after learning he’d won the contest. He read and reread the congratulatory email from his teacher before telling his parents, who, Closson said, proceeded to share the news with everyone they know. Though his dream career is to be a writer, and he plans to enter more writing contests, Closson also is interested in nursing and will attend community college next year to begin working toward a nursing degree.
With one contest under his belt, Closson advises young writers to remember that they’re their own worst critic and to try not to be too hard on themselves. “The first time isn’t going to be perfect,” he said. “I went through many, many revisions of my story before I thought it was worthwhile, so stay fair to yourself, but certainly spend as much time as you feel comfortable revising, going over what you’re doing, and keep writing in general.”
Gillis echoes that advice, especially during quarantine. “Writing is now so much more important than ever,” she said. “We’re by ourselves. We have so much to process. That’s the beauty of writing. It allows you to organize your thoughts and process your thoughts and come to a place of peace with them. If we have more kids that are taking time to write right now during this time, that’s just a plus.”
North Central High School freshman Chloe Nicholson placed second in the Creative Writing Contest Just for Spokane High School Students with her fictional piece “Haunted by the Boy in Red.” She studies English with teacher Sally Lavin.
Lilith Blankenship, North Central sophomore, placed third with “Flower Kisses,” a fictional piece. She studies English with teacher James Creasman. Nicholson and Blankenship also won Amazon gift cards, a Writers in the Community T-shirt, notebook and pencils, and publication in InRoads.
Three students received honorable mentions and were given a Writers in the Community T-shirt, notebook and pencils. Audrey Merritt, a junior at the Community School, wrote a fictional piece titled “At the Edge of Drowning” and studies English with teacher Nathan Seaburg.
Jenna Mark, a senior at the Community School, wrote a fictional piece, “The Meadow by the Creek,” and studies English with teacher Bobbi Konshuk. Suhang Liu, a junior at Ferris, wrote a nonfiction piece titled “Respect” and studies English with teacher Ashley Jones.
As part of the contest, every student who entered received individualized feedback from a member of the EWU faculty. Feedback was sent to each student’s English teacher, who should have passed the letter on to students. Gillis knows things may have been lost in the COVID-19 shuffle, so if students haven’t received their feedback, they should email Gillis at email@example.com.
Gillis also invited members of the community to participate in free online writing workshops Writers in the Community are hosting every Wednesday at 2:30 p.m. To receive the link to the workshop, email Gillis at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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