Over 750 students from across Wisconsin and from the Chicago area took part in the UW-Whitewater Creative Writing Festival on Wednesday, Nov. 15. Among them were a large number New Richmond High School students, with six of those students receiving second place awards for their submissions.
"It really takes guts to write or create something personal and share it with the world, especially when you know it will be evaluated and critiqued," said English teacher Deena Zauft. "All of the students who participated did a great job. I'm looking forward to working with them the rest of this school year. We are planning a public showing of their work in January."
The six students who placed at the festival include Micaela Bender, for her mystery and terror piece, "On the Bank of the Bloody River Thames;" Emma Brugler, for her multimedia piece, "Moments of Clarity," which included four different free verse poems which went along with a set of paintings; Olivia Harris, Abigail Shortell and Renee Goulet, who submitted a 25-minute horror film — which was edited by Isaac Olson; and Nathan Zander, who submitted a prose poetry piece, "Heat."
"My poem — which was about a paragraph long — was about an old friend who has been through a lot. The gyst of the poem is about me trying to repent for all the times I wasn't able to be there for her," Zander said. "I was a little surprised that I placed."
Although Brugler was confident in her own submission, she was surprised that she placed at the competition given the number of entries that were submitted and students who took part in the festival.
"I'm really glad I went to the competition this year because it is a super neat experience. It was great to get to meet a whole bunch of new people, too," Brugler said.
According to Zauft, students prepared manuscripts and projects, which were then submitted to the festival a month in advance. Professional writers and college professors critiqued each piece and held writing workshops for the students. The judges then selected the best pieces in each category and gave cash awards.
"NRHS students have won many awards in the past, but this group was different because of the collaborative efforts of the film group. Olivia Harris, Abigail Shortell and Renee Goulet worked together to write, produce, film and edit a 27-minute horror film," Zauft said. "They held auditions, worked to create unique sets, recruited a student make-up artist, and put in countless hours editing and revising. I've never had a group that motivated, organized and dedicated; the whole project probably included 30 different kids. It looked like a nightmare to coordinate, but they made it happen. It was pretty impressive; they really showed great leadership."
Harris, Shortell and Goulet were also proud of what they accomplished with their film, but have plans to possibly go back and do some more editing and also put together a blooper reel for the public showcase in January.
"I felt really good about what we did. It was a lot of work and I'm glad it turned out the way it did," Harris said. "Towards the end, it was getting really stressful because we were a little rushed and had a lot of scheduling conflicts."
Shortell added: "I didn't think we would do as well as we did. We got a place, so we were really happy about that. The judges were there to judge and give feedback, which was nice to get."
At the end of the day, most of the NRHS students who attended the festival felt like the day was more about learning from the feedback offered by the judges, meeting new people and viewing pieces from students from other schools.
"Honestly, the day was so packed and busy, I was just kind of tired and numb. But I was really happy about placing and being there," Bender said. "It didn't feel like a competition. I only remembered that it was a competition when I showed up for the awards ceremony at the end."
Even though just a few NRHS students placed at the festival, Zauft was extremely proud of all of the students she took.
"I was so proud of all of the kids. Writing is such a personal, oftentimes private, experience. It is important for students to have a real audience and get authentic feedback," Zauft said. "Nathan Zander is so quiet and reflective. It was fun to see him share his work. Micaela Bender is a really strong writer, and I'm so glad she was recognized. Emma Brugler is an outstanding artist. They all really have considerable talent that deserves to be recognized.
"We also had a few other really strong entries that did not get recognized; song-writer Tayven George and film-maker Isaac Olson received a ton of positive feedback."