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The Big Read Writing Contest Winners

pencil and paperThe Pioneer Library System has announced the winners of The Big Read: Old School Short Story Writing Contest.

Contest winners are Laura Smith, a 17-year-old junior at Westmoore High School, in the high school division; and Matt Baker, an Oklahoma Baptist University senior double-majoring in English and Anthropology, in the college division.

The winners were chosen from a group of finalists by Tobias Wolff, author of “Old School,” the featured novel in The Big Read activities in the library system this spring. They were announced at The Big Read Study Hall scholar panel discussion at Moore’s Old School Business Center on April 10.

Smith, of Moore, Okla., said she takes her inspiration from the work of Stephen King. Her short story “One Sheep, Zero,” “was inspired by a nightmare I had several months ago,” she said. “I love reading horror novels and although I hope to be a writer I am not yet sure if the horror genre is my forte.”

Baker, of Rowley, Mass., gave credit for his writing inspiration to his longtime English teacher Chris Westrate. Baker was a student in Westrate’s English classes from 7th through 12th grades. Baker’s short story was titled “The List.”

“My poetry class recently finished John Berryman's "The Dream Songs," Baker said. “I was reading it one night and was struck by a line from one poem, where he says he makes a list of all his surviving friends. I imagined a middle aged couple doing this, and wrote the first draft that evening.”

The contest mirrored a section of Wolff’s novel, where students at a private boarding school compete for the honor of meeting visiting authors by entering a writing contest with the guest author selecting the winning entry.

The winners and a guest received invitations to a private reception Wolff will attend while in Oklahoma April 24-25.

Others wanting to hear Wolff talk about his work have two opportunities at public events on Thursday, April 25. Wolff will speak at 11 a.m. Thursday, April 25, at the Geiger Center at Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee, and later that evening at 7 p.m. at the Longfellow Middle School Auditorium in Norman.

The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, designed to give readers an opportunity to read and discuss a single book within their community and to encourage reading for pleasure and enlightenment.

The Big Read was created in response to reports by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004 and 2007 that found that literary reading in American was declining rapidly among all groups, especially among the young. These declines in reading had civic, social and economic implications: literary readers were more likely to perform volunteer and charity work, visit art museums, attend performing arts events and attend sporting events.

The Pioneer Library System began its annual Big Read event in 2007 featuring “The Grapes of Wrath,” followed by “Bless Me Ultima,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “The Things They Carried,” and “The Joy Luck Club.” Each title has presented different opportunities for discussion and community partnerships and events.

The Big Read is sponsored by The National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Oklahoma Humanities Council, Norman Arts Council, University of Oklahoma Outreach, the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, LevyMart Public Relations, the Pioneer Library Foundation and the Pioneer Library System.

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