Men and Women of Letters

Seven of Alabama's 27 high school finalists for the Library of Congress's Letters about Literature contest were PHS students Kaylie Rastegar, Kathleen Kelley, Anna Carden, Casey Brooks, Alyssa Church, Lauren Gentry and Kyra Harris. (Contributed)

Seven of Alabama’s 27 high school finalists for the Library of Congress’s Letters about Literature contest were PHS students Kaylie Rastegar, Kathleen Kelley, Anna Carden, Casey Brooks, Alyssa Church, Lauren Gentry and Kyra Harris. (Contributed)

By CONNIE NOLEN / Community Columnist

“Write a letter to an author, living or dead, whose work has changed the way that you feel about the world or yourself. Reveal how the work of these authors’ has impacted your lives.”

These words were my challenge to my students last fall. They’re also the prompt for the Library of Congress’s “Letters about Literature” contest.

I push my writing classes to read books. While I love blogs myself, the work that’s been refined by publishing house editors is more error free.

All writers who want to sharpen their talent and be the best must watch the masters at work. When writers read books—we see the best in the craft—perfected by the very best editors.

Commissioning my students to enter this contest is great fun. Some students light up right away knowing exactly the author they will choose. Others take up the challenge of discovering a work that could impact them so powerfully.

This year, I’ve been blessed with some enormously gifted writers who have a tremendous work ethic. They have had success in many areas—on stage, in print, and, most recently, in “Letters about Literature.”

Out of the high school category, 27 Alabama finalists were chosen. Pelham High School is the home of seven of those 27.

On Saturday, May 14, while I was in Montgomery watching my son graduate from college, my students were honored with an awards ceremony at the University of Alabama.

What they shared with me about the event was wonderful. Author Ted M. Dunagan was their keynote speaker.

“The author’s message to us was my favorite part of the ceremony,” rising sophomore Anna Carden said. “He told us that we could only become writers if we read and he said that we must find that piece of literature that speaks to us.”

Many of the students were awed by Gorgas Library with its stately columns and enormous holdings, but truly they were stunned to realize the gravity of their honor.

I am awed by these wonderful students. I can hardly wait for next year.