For the past six years, students in southwest Minnesota from 3rd to 12th grade have submitted their best poems, stories and essays to the Creating Spaces Writing Contest coordinated by the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative and the English Department at Southwest Minnesota State University.
Tonight I'm part of this year's marathon judging session with a group of SMSU creative writing majors. Fueled by free pizza, the SMSU students pore through thick stacks of writing critiquing the originality, creativity, and quality of this year's entries. Once the folders are narrowed down in this first-tier judging, they'll be passed on to the SMSU creative writing faculty judges.
Each April we host an awards ceremony and reception at SMSU, one of my favorite annual events. A day when young writers become rock stars to their siblings, extended family and friends. They receive medals, shake hands with the published writer who is our keynote speaker. And they go home with a Creating Spaces anthology--their poem, story or essay now in print, their words, their voice moving out into the world.