2017Letters about literature copy

Sophomores Maddy Archer (L) and Patrick Preston (R) were recently honored for their “Letters About Literature,” a national writing contest sponsored by the Library of Congress. Their teacher, Brian Smalley (center) assigned the writing project in sophomore honors English.

Two Lincoln Academy sophomores were recently recognized as Maine State Finalists in the Letters About Literature writing contest.

Letters About Literature is an annual reading and writing contest for students in grades 4-12 sponsored by the National Center for the Book at the Library of Congress. For the contest, students are asked to read a book, poem, or speech and write a letter to the author (living or dead) describing how the work affected them personally.

Tens of thousands of students from across the country enter Letters About Literature each year, and winners receive state and national recognition. The contest combines three important writing strategies: responding to literature through writing, addressing the author, and writing for an external audience.  

The Maine Humanities Council, which is the local representative for this national contest, recently recognized the state-level winners, and two Lincoln Academy students, Patrick Preston and Maddy Archer, were awarded prizes, Preston as a semi-finalist, and Archer as a second-place finisher..

Both students were given the assignment as part of their sophomore honors English class, and both chose to write to George Orwell about his novel 1984.

Patrick Preston explained, “My letter is about the novel [1984], and how it remains important in our society, especially with recent political developments… to me the meaning of the novel is that we should be be vigilant about what’s happening around us, and make sure our opinions are heard, instead of just letting decisions be made for us… My letter is about the attitude of young people, and how we need to use the message of the novel and apply it to our view of the world.”

In his letter Preston wrote, “Today in countries like the United States and Britain, everyday people are not controlled so much by elusive political overlords like Big Brother. Instead, global corporations like Google, Facebook, and Twitter have taken this power into their own hands. The privacy of people who use this technology across the world has been compromised to an all time low, and because engaging with it has become so mandatory to have a successful education and career, everyone is affected by it.”

“My letter says that if we don’t make the decisions for ourselves and make our voices heard, then decisions will be made for us,” said Maddy Archer, who is originally from England. “I was thinking about the Brexit vote when I was writing it, and the issue of older generations making a decision that will affect younger generations. As young people we shouldn’t get lazy about politics because George Orwell’s vision of the future isn’t that far away; it is startlingly real.”

Archer’s letter included the following passage: “1984 has inspired me to be more cautious about the information that I read. I am also far more conscious of the future and what it may hold for our societies, as I can only see it spiraling into a world not unlike the one in your novel. I feel that if people keep giving others the authority to change their world, then it can only get worse. Winston’s story has inspired me to be more careful of the path I tread, and frankly, that is no bad thing.”

Lincoln Academy English teacher Brian Smalley assigned the Letters About Literature to his sophomore honors classes in the fall. “The assignment is valuable in two senses, he explained. “For one, it makes students reflect on the impact of the books they have read, and to pick one that they find important in how they see the world. Sophomore year encourages introspection, and this project is part of that. It is also helpful academic assignment that allows them to write in their own voice. In that respect, although it is work, it is kind of like a reward. We spend the year working on writing in the third person, and this is a break from that…. It gives me a chance to connect with them as an individual.”

About Archer and Preston he said, “Those two students are among the best writers at LA. They show excellence in everything they write, regardless of the assignment.”