Aimee St. James  was surprised that she won one of three top writing awards – a check for $1,000. Photo by Ramona du Houx

June/July 2007

By Ramona du Houx

Three years ago John Fitzsimmons, president of Maine’s Community College System, extended his role to introduce a program that inspires high school students across the state to enhance and explore their skills as writers.

His son at the time was entering Bates College and had complained about the lack of preparation there was in high school for creative writing. Fitzsimmons’ success over the years has always been, in part, due to his ability to listen and take action. The governor’s Community College System has a long waiting list of eager students and the exchange program partnership with New Brunswick already has students taking advantage of the variety of new courses offered. With Fitzsimmons at the helm, the Community College System continues to expand and is preparing students for good jobs here in the State of Maine.

It was natural for Fitzsimmons to approach the governor asking him to endorse his concept for a statewide contest for young writers. Without hesitation the governor was on board and placed a call to Stephen King to help with A Journey into Writing. For two years King has been a judge. This year Maine writers Richard Russo, Wesley McNair, and Linda Greenlaw chose the winners.

The governor read all the semifinalists’ works.

“Every day, in every way, our lives are enriched through the gifts of Maine writers, by drawing on our emotions, providing us insights, enhancing our knowledge and inspiring us to see the world and its people through a wider lens,” said Governor Baldacci. “I was really impressed with the stories I read,” said the governor. “Writing was something that I wanted the state to call more attention to — to be able to express yourself with the written word is something that we, as a society, have gotten away from. I think it’s something that we need to remember.”

This year’s finalists exhibited talent beyond their years. Nationally recognized poet McNair said as much when he highlighted excerpts from the semifinalists during his speech, noting each writer’s strengths.

“What he said, I’ll always remember,” said Julia Bald, a finalist from Brunswick. Bald aspires to becoming a writer after attending college. She also is a painter, which helped inspire her story, “The Last Painting,” which tells about a mysterious compelling relationship a girl has with a special painting. “My mom said to write about something I know.”

“I write better than I talk,” said finalist Aimee St. James modestly. St. James is also from Brunswick and has wanted to be a writer since she was eight. Her insightful, touching story entitled “A Five Letter Word,” takes the reader inside a tragic event. “I love watching people, getting impressions from them. I watch in the third person.”

All three finalists will be published in the Maine Sunday Telegram, as they help sponsor the event with US Cellular. To view the stories online please go to: writing.mccs.me.edu.

Amongst all the semifinalists there is one story that mastered the craft of humor with finesse and unexpected turns. George Murray of South Portland High School hit the mark with “Girl Mode.” Describing the trials and tribulations of trying to get a first date Murray succeeds in surprising the reader at every turn with his wit and candor.

“I had only admired Cindy for a short period of time (seven years), and I decide that perhaps she had forgotten about my various misadventures in fourth grade, most of which involved full nudity and embarrassing calls from the principal. Basically, I concluded that it was now or never, that the time was right, and that I could do this. ‘I can’t do this,’ I told my friend Jerry,” wrote Murray in this excerpt from “Girl Mode.”

The semifinalists were Alex Forsythe, Max Hodd Wells, and Siobhan Smith.

“Mr. Richards is wonderful,” said Smith from Freeport High about her teacher that inspired her to take part in the contest. “He told us about the contest when it started and I’ve been planning on entering since I was a freshman. I’ve started writing poetry as well; I’d love to become a writer.”

“In reviewing the entries, I noticed that Freeport High School has a student for the third year in a row who has made it to the semifinals,” said Baldacci. “Your repeat visit here this year is a tribute to the wonderful teachers here today and to the administrations that support you.”

The 2007 Governor’s Young Writer of the Year Awards generated 231 entries from all of Maine’s 16 counties, representing 85 high schools and 121 different cities and towns.

All semifinalists received a $100 check and a plaque. The three winners also received a framed certificate and a check for $2,500.

“This contest gives us the ability to help foster the talents of creative students — it is an avenue for their voices to be heard,” said Fitzsimmons. “It’s important that we recognize and celebrate their accomplishments for the future of the great state of Maine.”