Relist if you think this is a good idea!
  1. First, some back story. I kept in touch with my Appleton, WI high school creative writing teacher over the years. When I heard he'd started a poetry contest at my old school, I asked if I could help by getting the word out and underwriting prize money.
  2. We worked on the contest together for years, eventually making it city-wide for all high schools. We recruited locally-famous writers like the state poet laureate as judges.
  3. It was great. But then my teacher retired. So two years ago, I started another contest in Chapel Hill, NC, where I live now.
  4. This past Spring, my pal Daniel Wallace (of BIG FISH fame) was the final fiction judge. The year before it was Rosecrans Baldwin.
  5. I gave away $1,700 in prize money!
    $500 1st, $250 2nd, $100 3rd in both fiction and poetry.
  6. We announced the winners at a local coffee shop and the students read from their works in front of an audience.
  7. There is no greater joy than seeing the look on a 17-year-old's face when they realize they won a prize (and $500!) for a poem they created.
  8. Here are this year's winners:
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  9. Here is the district's press release on the event:
  10. HOW TO DO IT:
  11. Get in touch with your public school district's director of language arts. Believe me, they will be ECSTATIC about the idea. They will help you get in touch with creative writing/English teachers in the high schools.
  12. The teachers will be your foot-soldiers, champions and the biggest help in getting the word out. They will also come up with a rubric to judge the works that come in.
  13. NOTE: they will all also be overworked and stressed so you will need to keep prodding them at first. Eventually, the contest hits a critical mass, but not at first.
  14. Put a flier online like this and allow students to submit work online: Post similar fliers around schools. Teachers will help.
  15. Find some local or famous final judges. Open your address book! They will be eager to volunteer!
  16. Have teachers put collection boxes in school libraries and classrooms.
  17. Set a submission deadline.
  18. Get in good with the school district's head of PR who will help spread the word. PTA parents can be great champions as well.
  19. When the deadline comes, the teachers collect the works. They read and judge the bulk of them, and then each school sends the best 3 stories and best 3 poems to you.
  20. (There will be a lot of Hunger Games fan-fic. But it will be ok)
  21. You give all these finalist works to the final judges.
  22. The judges pick the winners. Ask them to write a comment/note for each work. This will blow the kids away.
  23. Tell the winners that they won, but not which prize they won. This will motivate them and their families to come to your awards ceremony/reading.
  24. In advance, get a local coffee shop to let you have a reading at a microphone for the event. This gives the kids real-world experience doing readings, etc.
  25. Ask everyone who comes to get the word out for next year!
  26. Bask in the glow of the warm-fuzzy you just gave to humanity.
  27. If there are enough local contests like this, maybe, eventually, we can knit them all together into one amazing national contest.
  28. Young people writing still matters. Even in the age of the Internet. Even though a billion books are published every day. It matters.
  29. It matters it matters