In July 1967 at a special meeting of The Friends of the Library—the dedicated group of volunteers who comprised the Board—and newly elected president, Dr. Ralph Shugart defined their group’s objectives. The group wanted to develop fine arts programs to meet community needs.
It was at this meeting that Mrs. Dolly Ryan, principal of South Grade School (the current Ralph Moody Elementary School), and fellow Friends and committee member, Elveda Lund, suggested a literary competition for Kindergarten through 12th grade in the Littleton Public School District. They suggested the following categories: Essay, Short Story, Poetry, and Haiku. It was suggested that the winning writings would be displayed at the Library.
Elveda Lund remembers that first year. “I contacted William Barrett, author of “The Lilies of the Field”, and he honored my request to give a talk to the winners and also give them a signed copy of the book, she said. “The book and movie were very popular at the time. I can only believe that the book is still a treasure for some of the recipients.”
In December 1967, about 380 Littleton school district students had entered the contest. The 12 judges—all writers in the Denver metro area—had selected the best submissions. The first- and second-place winners and their families were honored at the program in the Arapahoe High School auditorium, which featured the best-selling author, William E. Barrett. He was best known for his novella, “The Lilies of the Field”, made into an award-winning film featuring Sydney Poitier. Each winner received a signed copy of Barrett’s book.
In 1968, 360 students entered the renamed “Children’s Creative Writing Contest”. The program was led by Mrs. James (Jean) Patton with Dr. Shugart leading the Friends’ organization. Mrs. James (Dolores) Curran, a well-known Littleton magazine writer and newspaper columnist, presented the awards
Through the 1970s and 1980s, slight changes in the contest emerged. The contest used to end at Winter Break, and then at some point, the Friends moved the deadline to the end of Spring Break.
Starting in 1970, there were no 10th-12th grade entries. From 1987 on there have been no Kindergartners. 1986 saw the last of ninth and 10th graders. The categories continued as: Short Story, Essay, Poetry, and Haiku until 1986 when Haiku was dropped. In 2008, the categories were only Short Story and Poetry. A few years featured a category for Illustrated Short Stories, Essays would come and go. Places have always listed firsts, and seconds, sometimes thirds, and a few years included honorable mentions. By the 2010s, the contest had dwindled in submissions; in 2019, there were only 22 submissions from 18 writers.
For the 2020 contest, the Friends knew that changes had to be instituted or we could no longer justify the volunteer time and resources towards this program. Possibly the COVID-19 pandemic helped to encourage parents, teachers, and students to express themselves through creative writing. We dropped Children’s’ from the title and also added High School entries back into the contest. In addition, the marketing and coordinators’ efforts increased. In 2020, the Friends were elated that 100 young authors submitted 118 entries.
In 2021, with the pandemic continuing, the contest entry process was pushed to the Friends’ website and nearly all the students submitted their writings electronically. Marketing was targeted through the schools with posters, flyers and other materials delivered to the front office staff (as we have for years) knowing these people are the touchpoint for the entire school. Every teacher and librarian received information and notification of their student’s submission.
This year (2021) there were 254 submissions from 247 students. We saw entries from 26 schools— elementary, middle, and high schools, also remote and homeschooled students. Our categories changed to reflect current trends in writing contests for young authors to Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry. In addition, we added a new category, Collaboration, because students and teachers asked for writers to be able to work together.
Creative writing is definitely worth the Friends’ effort and resources. If you would like to be involved in the future of this program, please contact us at: CreativeWritingContest@gmail.com Resources:
Research compiled from the 1967 -2019 publications.
Lisa A Hendry
Mrs. Ryan (top right), South
Grade School 1966. Photo provided by Val Fetters, Bemis Librarian
Winning writers in print!
All winning 2021 entries will be bound in a book and copies will be available for purchase after the contest. Order a copy of the 2021 Creative Writing Contest Winning Writers publication. Alternatively, during normal Library operating hours, you can reference a printed copy in the children’s room of the 2021 and previous years' winners starting in 1968. Winning writers' work work be printed in black and white, even if any artwork was submitted in color.
PLEASE NOTE: This contest is sponsored and managed solely by the Friends of the Littleton Library and Museum.
The staff of the Bemis Public Library has no involvement in procedures or judging.
Questions should be referred FriendsCreativeWritingContest@gmail.com