by Michele Marotta
NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Director
It is my privilege to announce the NJCTE 2019 High School Writing Contest Winners. These are the students who have infused such imagination, insight, genuineness, color, precision of idea, humor and drama into their poems, essays and short stories that their words convinced at least four different judges to award them top scores. (Click here or the link above to see the list of award winners, their schools, sponsoring teachers, and the titles of the winning pieces.)
I am often asked, “How many schools participated in the contest? How many entries were submitted? How many poems, essays and short stories received top awards?” It’s a frustrating paradox that we require the context of numbers and quotas in order to assign a value to the achievement of winning a literary prize.
The same is not true of athletics. A 100-yard sprinter could compete against one other athlete or even against herself, and if the time she ran broke the World Record, her achievement would be recognized immediately. Distinction in using the English language is not so easily measured.
If Abraham Lincoln had submitted “The Gettysburg Address” to a writing contest and had won the gold medal, would it matter how many entries were in the competition? Of course, Abraham Lincoln’s greatness as a writer emerged in the context of the demands of many difficult situations he encountered as President during a time of war. However, he had honed his ability with words through using the English language in many more mundane activities earlier in his life. Our writing contest provides students with another opportunity to sharpen their language skills and prepare for greater demands on them as writers in the future.
Our judges, active or retired English educators, are up to the task of helping students grow as writers in this way. They are characterized by the multi-faceted intellectual gifts they bring to their reading of the entries we receive. They include among their number a sizable percentage of college professors, heads of English Departments, and even a high school principal or two. Many are published poets, or essayists themselves and appreciate any opportunity to grapple with the many layers of the English language inside and outside of the classroom. Above all, they understand the power of the written word and desire students to gain more perfect control of this essential tool.
As for the special set of English educators on our Writing Contest Committee, who sign up for more demanding roles, such as Genre Curator or Judge Liaison, they almost invariably experience a great boost in their educational careers. That is because they responded to a literary challenge beyond the classroom by helping run this contest and trying to put the interest of the students first. However, their value far exceeds any of the career “recognitions” they receive.
Thus, rather than demand quotas and numbers to assess how worthwhile it is to be recognized as a winner of the NJCTE High School Writing Contest, please urge more students you know to participate in our contest.
Most importantly, come to our Annual Award Reception and hear the words of our top medal winners performed by the Union Catholic High School Forensics Club. The event will be held on Thursday, April 11, 2019, from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Union Catholic High School in Scotch Plains, NJ. David Messineo, a published NJ poet and literary magazine publisher, will offer remarks at the end of the event. This event is free and open to all NJCTE members.