By Sue Moore
The Friends of the Schoolcraft Community Library sponsored its third annual Tournament of Writers this past fall. Altogether, 36 writers ages 10 to over 90 submitted entries in three categories: poetry, fiction and nonfiction.
A diverse group of 11 judges read the entries during the month of November and in December, the winners were announced during a special ceremony held at the Schoolcraft Library. Kathleen Forsythe’s memoir “My Father’s Blessing” took Grand Prize. She is from Vicksburg and teaches English in the high school. Her remembrances of a loving father and picking up rocks to clear a field were heartwarming, the judges said.
“We’re living in an unprecedented time where publishing is in the reach of everyone. That alone changes the dynamic for writers who may have felt stymied to develop their skills outside of journaling just because the publishing aspect was so steep an obstacle,” said Debra Christiansen, the tournament organizer.
The number of writers has grown since the first year when there were 19 entries in all. In the second year, there were considerably more entries, 71, probably because of an article in Encore magazine. “This presented more of a hardship on the judges than anything else, but it did serve to broaden our exposure,” she said.
“This past year was much more manageable, and the competition will probably continue to develop with a core group of authors, as well as grow with new author entries. We added a cover art contest in the second year, and in this our third year, we added a Super Senior division for those over 70. Since we have five age divisions and three literary categories, a writer has a chance to win simply by entering because we’re still in the process of getting enough entries in certain age divisions and literary categories,” she said. “That’s OK. That may inspire a writer to say, ‘Hey, I want to do this,’ and be rewarded for their effort.”
A few years ago, Christiansen took the opportunity to turn her 90-year-old mother-in-law from a scrap paper poet to a published author. The time they spent together, editing and arranging her book gave her new purpose. She was literally (and figuratively) reborn. “This joy and elation over being a published author is what I wanted to share with the community to encourage others to present their works and develop their skills. The writers’ tournament and judging serves to provide deadlines and challenge the writers to finish and perfect their pieces, not to mention create the excitement of winning.”
“I’m not one of the judges, so I don’t really get to go through the entries until I’m putting the book together. I set up the judging the way I did because that’s the way the public would judge the work – did they like it? Was it interesting? And sometimes – was it legible? We’re an area of small towns. We have local flavor. We know each other. This competition reflects that. In fact, when I first pitched the idea, no one wanted to judge (or even felt qualified) because they felt they would be able to recognize their neighbor’s work,” she said.
Some of the writers have taken part since the beginning. She said she is grateful that they took that leap of faith. One of the teen writers, Rachel Hostetler, is an example. Her family rescues animals, but beyond rescuing them, these animals are transformed. This competition has allowed Rachel to be a voice for them. Her entry this year in fiction displayed a mature writing technique of switching points of view from paragraph to paragraph, and it works. Poet Mark Lego is Christiansen’s Kalamazoo Gazette carrier. He has placed in the senior poetry category and won the cover contest two years in a row.
“Christine Webb came aboard our second year with a group of her students and took Grand Prize. This year, she convinced her mom and dad to enter. That’s really what this competition is all about – writing, being brave enough to submit your words, and generous enough to encourage others to do the same,” Christiansen said.
Entries from the tournament are now available on Amazon in “Small Town Anthology III.” Winners received cash prizes and a gift certificate to Kazoo Books. They will also receive a copy of the published book. Schoolcraft Library recently hosted a book signing for all the winners.