Every year, the Ottawa Public Library holds a youth writing contest for which hundreds of local kids write stories, poems, and comics. The winners and honourable mentions are published in the annual anthology, Pot-pourri. But the contest’s title — Awesome Authors — applies to all of those who enter.
The contest deadline for 2019 has passed (it was February 19th — if you are still thinking about entering, hold that thought till next year), and the entries are currently in the hands of the judges, awaiting final decisions.
I’m one of those judges. I’ve been in a judge for the Awesome Authors English Short Fiction category for the past few years (and hopefully for a few more to come). This year, I considered 136 stories written by kids aged 9-12.
Over the past couple of weeks, I winnowed the original entries down to my top 20. (This was not easy.) The Top 20 are all outstanding. Really, they all deserve to be in next year’s Pot-pourri. But alas, there is no room.
This week, I chopped the pile in half, leaving only my Top Ten. (That was painful. I had to put on a cruel expression and shove all those endearing characters off the table.) And now I must make the final cut to my Top 6. (The rules are that I must choose 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners, plus up to 3 honourable mentions. “Up to,” not “at least.” Not, alas, 7 honourable mentions. Nope. Just 3.)
I have the first and second place winners decided, and I’m hedging between two others for 3rd place and Honourable Mention. That leaves 2 spots for other Honourable Mentions — and 6 highly honour-worthy stories to squish into those spots.
Argh, how to choose?!?
Actually, I have a set of criteria by which I rate the stories. (It includes some standard categories, like characterization and originality and mastery of language, plus the critical “just-something-special-about-it-that’s-hard-to-articulate” category.) Still, all of my top 10 rate high, and choosing among them is like choosing apples or oranges. How to compare a story that is beautifully written but simple in plot, to one that has a clever and delightful plot but less skill with words? Which is “better”?
And the hardest question of all: How can I leave out one of my faves just because another is, well, “better”?
Being a judge, you have to evaluate a story on its merits, not your personal tastes. Say it was a vocal contest. Perhaps I’d rather listen to Conor Oberst than Celine Dion, but if I had to judge which is the “better” voice, well….
Sigh. My favourite stories rarely take first place. (Last year’s favourite in the teen category got an Honourable Mention. One of this year’s faves won’t make it in the final 6 at all.)
The hardest thing is knowing that some of the 14 kids whose stories were in my top 20 but won’t be in the final 6 , might think that not “winning” means their stories weren’t good. Oh, they are so wrong. They are so good.
I can’t give any details, of course. The winners of all the Awesome Authors categories will be announced on April 13th. The 9-12 category will be announced at an afternoon celebration, and the teens will be announced at an evening event. There will be door prizes as well as author prizes, along with other entertainments. I’ll keep you posted on the venue details.
I hope to see you at the award ceremony. Whether your name is called or not, we’ll celebrate your awesome author-ness.
And remember, Awesome Authors is an annual event. The contest will run again in 2020. So if you are between 9 and 18 and you like to write poems, stories, or comics in either (or both) English or French, it’s time you entered. Next year’s contest will open in December.