Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Color-Wanting Girl

I spent Tuesday in South Bend, Indiana visiting schools, something I always love to do. I was there because the local chapter of the International Reading Association sponsored a high school writing contest based on Everything You Want. The rules: Write a story about what happens when a character gets something he or she wanted, but getting it doesn’t turn like s/he thought it would, that has characterization, setting, conflict, and resolution—using exactly fifty-five words.

The Grand Prize Winner was “The Color-Wanting Girl,” by Grace Maginn, a sophomore at St. Joseph High School. Here it is:

The small girl held the sun in her hand. She placed it gently on the canvas, and then plucked the clouds from the sky. She placed them next to the sun. The colors of the morning evaporated from the sky and landed on her painting. She looked up from her painting. Blank darkness surrounded her.

Look at how much it says in so few words!

I loved meeting Grace and talking about writing to her honors English class at St. Joe. Walking into Amy O’Brien’s classroom, it wasn’t hard to see why her students are full of great ideas. (Another of her students, Tom Ferlic, won an honorable mention for his story “Blissful Entrapment.”) Everywhere I looked I saw something that might have triggered a story—cool movie posters, stacks of books, student artwork. Lucky kids, I thought!

Which was the same thought I had earlier that day, visiting Meghan Beard’s seventh and eighth graders at St. John. This was just a little bonus visit for me, because fellow writer Kathy Higgs-Coulthard (the organizer of the contest—not to mention my hostess and chauffeur) knows Meghan and made it happen.

I love being with teachers who love to teach—so it was great to end the day giving a talk to members of the I.R.A. over a wonderful Italian meal at Reggio’s in Mishawaka.

Then returning to Kathy’s house, where her daughter Katie, a budding author herself, lent me her beautiful pink bedroom, where I slept the sleep of the happily exhausted, waking only once to admire the way the moonlight made the bead curtain sheltering her window seat sparkle.

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