By Bethany Nutter:
Recently, two student writing entries, from grades 12 and 10, were selected for the Central West Virginia Writing Project competition, commonly known as the Young Writers Contest. The students were Jacob Tallamy and Zackery Toler, respectively.
The contest has been hosted by Marshall University for the past 35 years. At high school levels, there are two divisions: grades nine through ten and grades eleven through twelve. Including basic criteria such as appropriateness, the ninth and tenth grade division was limited to 1,000 words in a submission, whereas grades eleven and twelve were restricted to a maximum word count of 1,200. English teachers from every school are notified of the deadline and determine which written works meet the guidelines and are of best quality. High schools may enter two works into the county competition. Mrs. Tucker, one of the 12th grade English teachers, was the coordinator of this year’s school contest. “We look for creativity, cohesion, and an impressive vocabulary,” stated Mrs. Tucker regarding what the English teachers sought after in a writing entry.
Upon being nominated to represent the school with their works, Zack Toler and Jacob Tallamy’s submissions were sent in for the county competition, where Toler stole the third-place spot and Tallamy snagged the first-place accolade.
After he received news of his accomplishment, Zack Toler thought,” Oh, that’s pretty neat!” Toler’s work was originally written as an assignment in his Pre-AP English class. “We had to pick an event that happened before we were born and find a first-person account to write from. This type of paper is called a historical narrative,” Toler explained.
When asked what his historical narrative was about, Toler replied, “It was about a little Russian boy getting drafted into WWII around the time of the Battle of Stalingrad. I tried to make it as historically accurate as possible, but everyone is made up to my knowledge.” Zack Toler found the writing process to be rather strenuous, and even wrote five drafts before turning in the finalized copy. Toler anticipated continuing his writing endeavors beyond the competition. “I’m thinking about writing a novel or two when I’m older. Just for fun. Most people want to walk across the Grand Canyon or jump out of planes. Nope, not me. I want to snuggle up and write a book. It’s one of those things I’ve always wanted to do.”
Simultaneously, Jacob Tallamy also encountered a struggle whenever writing his piece. “Given the nature and content of the story, it was a huge challenge, and I was so emotionally drained. I never would’ve completed it, and it would not be anywhere near as powerful as it is without the wonderful support of my teachers,” Tallamy noted. During Creative Writing Club, Jacob Tallamy gave Mrs. Tucker a snippet of his writing. Subsequently, Mrs. Tucker approached him with a pamphlet for the 2019 Central West Virginia Project. “My story features a teenage boy who suffers from a horrifically abusive home life. As a result of the abuse, he struggles with his own alcoholism and drug addictions. It’s a very raw story that we so commonly see everywhere around us,” said Tallamy expounding on the plot of his story. Granted with the occupations of his mother as a nurse and brother as a police officer, Tallamy has heard many cases of opioid addiction, overdosing, and domestic violence reports often. Thus, it inspired him to choose the gritty content of his submission. Describing how it felt while he was notified of his status at the county level, Tallamy responded,” When Mrs. Tucker told me I placed first and was moving onto states, I almost cried because it was such an incredible feeling.” Upon illustrating the purpose he intended to deliver in the story, Tallamy said,” I want the best for this story because it means so much to me, and it means so much to the people who have suffered through similar experiences. I want to give that dark side of the world a voice so that it’s not so unorthodox to talk about and that people aren’t pressured to speak of those awful situations in a reductive way.” Beaming with hope for the state competition, Tallamy remarked,” I’m so anxious to win because, if I do, the story will get published and that will give it great potential to open people’s eyes and maybe even empower those who have struggled.’