Junior makes top 10 in literature contest

March 13, 2009 — by Brandon Yang

When English teacher Natasha Ritchie gave her English 11 Honors class a “practice write” assignment last November, junior Steven Hong thought it was just another 800-word essay assignment. So a few months later, in February, when Ritchie congratulated several of her students for making it to the state level in a contest, Hong was confused at first, like a few other students who had advanced.

“I completely forgot because I wrote the letter sometime in first semester,” said Hong. “And it took a while before I even remembered what my essay was about.”

The contest they entered was called Letters About Literature. To participate, students needed to select a book they felt strongly about and then write to the author about the book about how the book has changed how they think. After making state level, the letters are gradually eliminated until the finalist is chosen. Hong, who wrote to Amy Tan about “The Joy Luck Club,” advanced further, becoming one of the top 10 for California.

“I was pretty surprised because I honestly didn’t expect to place in the contest,” said Hong. “I didn’t expect them to actually take my letter seriously, and I thought that they would easily pass over my letter for some other person who wrote about a deeper connection to literature.”

Of the students from SHS who submitted a letter, 13 made it to state level, compared to the six last year, including Sarah Zarrin, who won the state title with her letter about “Roots” by Alex Hayley. In addition to Hong, juniors Emily Baba, Cindy Chang, Eva Chen, Rita Chen, Derrick Cheng, Priyanka Hardikar, Mindy Hsiao, Shawna Khorsani, Angeline Lee, Edward Saaredra, Aveena Shenoy and Erika Ye were also chosen for state level.

“To advance to the state in this contest is huge,” said Mohnike. “They have tens of thousands of letters submitted this year, and The National Center for the Book (Based at the Library of Congress) only forwards to the states those they feel the state can consider for semi-finalist.”

Although teachers have only been actively encouraging students to enter the Letters About Literature contest for two years, teachers felt that having students participate as an assignment was a good experience for them to reflect upon their lives and write what they feel.

“Writing for your teachers is great in order to learn, but sometimes the extra adrenaline that comes from realizing new eyes will see your work is enough to push students to craft whatever they are most capable of creating,” said Mohnike. “By making it an assignment, I’m hoping to encourage students to consider finding their own contests or interests where they can shine.”

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