Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Power of the Pen is a writing contest for teens in Hamilton sponsored by the Hamilton Public Library, now celebrating its 13th year. University of Chicago doctoral student Aidan Johnson, an early recipient of the award, will be giving the keynote address to this year's winners on Fri, Oct 19, 2007. He asked Power of the Pen alumni to draft a note about what the contest has meant to us. I’m delighted to have been invited to comment. Here’s a truncated version of the letter:

Dear Aidan.

Thanks for giving me the chance to reflect on what the Power of the Pen has meant to me in my development as a writer and as a person.

For me, winning the Power of the Pen was an invitation to keep writing—every day, through rough patches, through busy periods, through writer’s block. Both the trajectory that brought me to the newspaper business and the trajectory that has kept me engaged in literary work began in the auditorium of the Hamilton Public Library in 1997.

Fiction writers and poets deal with a lot of rejection in their early careers. Even well established poets have their work declined regularly by publishing houses and magazines. Winning the Power of the Pen gave me the confidence I needed to handle a rejection ratio that was initially 30:1. It gets easier, I promise.

Friends of mine who have won this award have not pursued writing; for some young recipients, becoming a full-time writer is the furthest thing from their minds. I respect that. Being engaged with literature happens at many levels, enriching the mental life of all who partake. A lifelong reader is a problem solver, an empathizer, a person who understands nuance and other points of view: in short, the best kind of citizen.

The Power of the Pen is an outstanding civic prize for young people to be awarded—regardless of their intentions for their future. Please extend my congratulations to this year’s recipients.

Marcus McCann