Students’ Powerful Pieces Secure Statewide Recognition


Maddie Phelps '19, Web Managing Editor


Deciding whether or not your own writing is A-worthy material or not is challenging when you’re the only one reading it. But how about submitting it to be judged?? And then learning that your writing piece had been recognized out of over 1,500 other kids statewide? That’s a major hint that your writing turned out successfully. Luckily for four Westport students-three middle schoolers and one Staples student-this was the exact news they received, as their pieces were acknowledged in the 2017 Student Writer’s Essay Contest.

The essay contest, sponsored by The University of Connecticut, puts students’ writing to the test from all over Connecticut, accepting thousands of entries ranging from poetry to short  stories.

Molly Fording ’19 left an impact on the judges with her poem, “The Daughter”, which secured her a first place finish and the opportunity for her poem to be published in the annual Connecticut Student Writers Magazine.

“My poem was partially inspired by a long nighttime drive and an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, ‘Welcome to Night Vale,’” Fording explained. “The poem is loosely centered around the troubled relationship between a couple and their estranged daughter.”

Fording previously won the contest as a second-grader and received an honorable mention in fifth grade. Driven by her history with this contest, she decided to enter again in 2017. Evidently, her decision to submit her powerful piece was worth it.  

“It means a lot that my poem won; I think it’s one of the best I’ve ever written, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that other people like it too,” Fording continued. “It’s abstract yet truthful, and everyone who I’ve shown it to has found a unique meaning in it.”

Along with Fording’s impressive first place win, Bedford seventh grader Amy Hogan proved her talent as a writer by receiving an honorable mention for her short story “Holding onto the Spotlight.” Her story follows a young dancer in New York City who struggles to cope with an injury.

As for what pushed her to enter the contest, Hogan traces it back to one simple reason: her love for writing. “I have always imagined a future in writing for myself, and I decided that entering this contest was a good place to start,” Hogan said. “I am very honored to receive this award and I am hoping that becoming a future author can be an outcome of this amazing experience.”

Hogan’s current English teacher, Lorien Hallama, also recognized her profound skills as a young writer.  “ [Hogan] has a natural rhythm to her writing, and a great, realistic voice,” Hallama said. Throughout the school year, Hallama has noticed that Hogan’s skills are simply a result of her appreciation for writing, saying, “[Her] own passion is what drives her talent.”

In addition to Hogan’s honorable mention, two other seventh graders from Coleytown Middle School received honorable mentions for their writing pieces. Sophie Alcyone was recognized for her short story, “And She Had No Shoes”, while Erin Durkin’s piece “Healing Storm” secured her an honorable mention as well.

After being asked to write a short story about a memorable moment in her life, Alcyone loosely-based her story after a nerve-wracking experience of getting lost in an exhibit in India.

“When my teacher suggested I submit it, I did it because I could, not because I expected any outcome,”  Alcyone said. “I don’t know how many students entered it, but I feel proud that I got recognition nonetheless.”

Unlike Fording, Hogan or Alcyone, Durkin’s short story wasn’t influenced by any experience in particular. Instead, Durkin had a larger objective in mind and strived to accomplish it through her words.

“I wrote my story with the goal to make it a good piece,” Durkin explained. “I didn’t have any particular memory or inspiration in mind.”

Paul Ferrante, the language arts teacher of both Alcyone and Durkin, encouraged the two to enter their pieces once being impressed by their writing.

“This accomplishment is huge,” Ferrante said. “The competition in this contest is intense, both in numbers of entrants and in quality of the competition. It can seem a bit daunting…many students are hesitant to put themselves out there. But I always encourage them to take the chance.”

Ferrante mentioned that this contest is an excellent way for students to push beyond the curriculum taught in Westport and have the opportunity to be a little creative through their words. “I always tell my students to write about what they know and what they love,” Ferrante said. “I hope my experience as a professional writer has had some effect or inspiration as we’ve gone through the year.”