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SC poet laureate Marjory Wentworth praises student writing in new anthology

            “If everyone could read the entries for this year’s South Carolina High School Writing Contest, they would feel better about our future.” Thus begins Marjory Wentworth, the state’s poet laureate, in her foreword for Writing South Carolina: Selections from the Second High School Writing Contest.

            Released this spring by the University of South Carolina Press, volume 2 of Writing South Carolina includes the work of 29 high school juniors and seniors who were finalists in the annual competition during the 2014-15 school year. As with the preceding and following contests, students respond – in no more than 750 words—to a single question: “How can we make South Carolina better?” Wentworth, grand judge that year, described her surprise and pleasure about the submissions she read. Her foreword continues:

            “We all worry that young people don’t read the newspaper or care about politics or social issues; these fine essays, poems, and stories prove otherwise. These students are passionate about social justice issues, and they understand the complex links between politics, public spending, and public policy. Their empathy for the least fortunate among us is deeply felt. This is what touched me the most about their writing.”

            Presented by the South Carolina Honors College and USC Press, the contest is open to juniors and seniors in public, private, and home schools. The late Pat Conroy, the novelist who introduced the South Carolina lowcountry to readers across the globe, was the contest’s first grand judge. Subsequent judges, like Conroy and Wentworth, are acclaimed South Carolina writers: novelist Mary Alice Monroe, poet Nikky Finney, and short story writer Pam Durban. All write the forewords for the student anthologies.

            Many topics are tackled in the collection, from racism, child abuse, and protecting the environment to the need to teach tolerance, fine arts and foreign languages. Abigail Fourspring, a senior at the time, won first place in her class with her poem “The Guiding Hand” and her impromptu essay, “Finding Meaning through Mersault.” A student at Riverside High in Greer, Fourspring received the Walter Edgar Award, funded by SCHC alumni Thad Westbrook. Charish Cauley, then a junior at Saluda High, won first place in her class with her essays, “Seven Hours and Twenty Minutes” and “The Gift of Eternal Life.” She received the Dorothy Skelton Williams Award, funded by an anonymous donor in memory of a dedicated upstate elementary school principal.

            Now in its fourth year, the contest has grown from 23 finalists (out of a large pool of submissions) during 2013-14 to 71 finalists (from a larger pool) in 2016-17. Steven Lynn, dean of the SCHC, started the program to provide a competition for students that wasn’t sports-related. Since then, the Pat Conroy Literary Center and the South Carolina State Library have joined the program as presenting sponsors.

            Writing South Carolina: Selections from the South Carolina High School Writing Contest can be ordered from USC Press by calling 800/768-2500.


Photo credit: Andrew Allen, 2015