By Melanie Lust ’19
When Lizzy Tonsberg ’19 was taken out of class by her English teacher on Sept. 20, she immediately assumed she was in trouble. Instead, Tonsberg’s teacher informed her that her writing had just won an international competition.
Tonsberg won third place for her short story “Company” and honorable mention for her short story “Sweet Tea” in the William Faulkner Literary Competition. Just a week after she found out the news, she travelled to New Albany, Mississippi to claim a $100 prize, a certificate and lifelong memories.
When she found out, she “was kind of in shock and then cried in the hallway,” Tonsberg said.
“Company” features dialogue between a therapist and her patient, who happens to be a therapist himself. In “Sweet Tea,” a group of Gothic-era Southern belles exchange gossip.
Tonsberg said both stories include dialogue that becomes increasingly dark.
“I became interested [in] making characters seem real,” Tonsberg said of the writing process. “I really focused on how humans have different emotions and how they show them.”
Tonsberg did not originally plan on submitting to the William Faulkner Literary Competition. After failing to place in three different writing contests beforehand, she made a last-minute decision to submit her stories the day before the deadline.
“I just had this last surge of really wanting to be published,” she said. “I wanted to be known. I’m glad I took a chance to do that.”
Tonsberg wrote “Company” while at a three-week high school writing program at Columbia University this summer. Tonsberg excelled in the Advanced Creative Writing class.
“[Lizzy] has an excellent sense of characters and conflict, which is colored by sensitivity for setting and vivid description,” Sasha Grafit, one of the creative writing instructors at the program, said. “In a Tonsberg story, the primary actions of characters are challenged by their inner dialogue and complicated by their relationship with their surrounding.”
“Sweet Tea” was the product of a year-long endeavor, beginning with a prompt from Tonsberg’s Gothic and Horror Literature class in her junior year. In Reading and Writing Fiction, she said she had an opportunity to refine the story and improve her general writing skills.
English teacher David Stockwell, who taught Reading and Writing Fiction, said Tonsberg was open-minded as both a writer and editor.
“She showed a lot of flexibility in her ability to take on different characters and to use dialogue and description and changes in mood,” he said.
The editing process for “Sweet Tea” was as long as the writing process, but Tonsberg was open to suggestions and new ideas.
“Willingness to revise and try different things is important for a writer,” Stockwell said. “She was able to listen, consider [suggestions] and decide what’s right for her fiction, which is a mark of maturity.”
Tonsberg hopes to continue writing well into her future. She is considering a career in publishing but is certain about majoring in creative writing in college.
“I definitely plan to write a novel,” Tonsberg said. “I need a bigger commitment with myself, but when I’m in college I completely want to do this.”