Ohio’s Original Interscholastic Creative Writing Program for Middle Schools
My name is Jack Gantos and I’m writing in support of the great educational effort of Power of the Pen.
Since 1976 I have been writing and publishing books for a wide range of young readers – from picture books to young adult novels. I have received the Newbery Award, the Newbery Honor, Printz Honor, Sibert Honor, named a National Book Award Finalist and received a host of educational and state awards in my field of children’s literature and children’s education. I teach teachers in the Lucy Calkins Reading and Writing program at Columbia University and am a constant symposium speaker in the Simmons College Children’s Literature Program. I speak at forty schools each year, world-wide.
This accumulated experience has allowed me to sort out the effective teaching programs from the less effective which is why I can highly recommend that the Power of the Pen is deserving of your support. They constantly provide highly motivational, and aesthetically instructional writing programming for young writers. Their instruction boosts the skills and confidence of young writers while providing a competitive format that is respectful and inclusive of all the writing students and writing instructors. As a result of their hands-on support the students are skillful, accomplished high achievers.
Students who aspire to write well also aspire to publish and build careers in the field of literature at all levels. I have often been among those students, run writing workshops and delivered keynotes on writing and publishing, and Power of the Pen attracts a wide range of the best in Ohio.
Power of the Pen deserves your highest consideration, for at the heart of their program is the instruction, training, support and lifting up of young writers who most assuredly will be part of the landscape of publishing in our country.
– Jack Gantos, author
I’ve had the privilege of being invited to be the visiting author and keynote speaker at the Power of the Pen State Tournament at least three times, and each time I’ve been amazed at its very existence. Every state should follow suit.
At Power of the Pen, writing is celebrated in the way athletics are celebrated in every state. Each and every time I look into the rapt faces of the young writers in the audience, I find myself wishing that there had been a program like this for my middle school self. Kids and parents get to participate and cheer for amazing creativity; it’s the stuff of joy in education.
Since my first experience there many years ago, I’ve promoted it at nearly every state educational conference In which I’ve participated. I’m a FAN!
There’s no doubt in my mind that the skills I learned while in Power of the Pen continue to help me today.
For the past two years, I've had the privilege of writing for the Tonight Show. It can be a high-stress job, especially when you're trying to reach a deadline. Writers at the show have to write a new episode of television every night, so we're constantly absorbing information and turning it into comedy. The parallels between what I do now and what I did in Power of the Pen are clear to me.
Power of the Pen forced me to take a theme, dig deep into my psyche, and produce a full-fledged story – all while respecting a deadline. It taught me to be fast but thorough, descriptive but economical, confident but flexible. And most importantly, it gave me permission to lean into my own creativity.
The best advice I've ever gotten about writing is simple: “Write, write, write.” Plenty of people want to write, but very few actually take the time to put pen to paper. Power of the Pen was the first organization that gave me the courage to trust my own ideas and write, write, WRITE!
Below, I spell out the reasons I support Power of the Pen as an outstanding vehicle for encouraging young people to develop the skill and artfulness of their writing. First, though, I want to quantify my support for the program. The unit of measure I’ve chosen is the year: I been involved as a volunteer best-of-round judge for more than 30 years. To those 30-plus years, I’ll add a multiplier: In almost every one of them, I’ve judged a tournament each at the district and the regional levels. It was all time I would spend again in the same way.
Nor was I alone during that time. Not only have stalwart leaders continued their dedication to Power of the Pen, but each year, teacher-, parent-, and student-volunteers have stepped forward to help and community groups have supported the tournaments by funding the purchase of medallions and trophies deserving writers take home. In funding decisions, the issue of sustainable often arises. This kind of volunteer support is a solid indicator.
I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir in mentioning the degree to which the support of programs like Power of the Pen helps to provide balance by rewarding youth whose writing skills so often go unrecognized in a society that overvalues sports. The smiles on the faces of those who come forward to receive their rewards show the effect of that support. Added to that is the camaraderie obvious among team members who grow into a community supportive of one another throughout the school year.
One thing I am reminded about every time I judge a tournament is the remarkable progress made by writers who begin as seventh grade competitors and continue through the eighth grade level. As band and orchestra parents know, the amount of development middle school students can make in a single year is striking. Encouragement offered to students at this age is crucial in helping them to make quantum leaps of which they are capable.
Finally, as a writer who worked as a full-time journalist for just short of 40 years and who enjoys writing enough to continue part-time in my retirement, I really do marvel at what seventh- and eighth-graders can produce in the 40 minutes allotted to compose an essay on a topic just given to them. Many of the children in Power of the Pen tournaments are far more skilled writers than I was at their age, and I truly consider them to be my colleagues.Please support Power of the Pen in its efforts to encourage young writers to reach their potential both as writers and as people.
– Tom Stafford, staff writer, Springfield News-Sun
Power of the Pen