A national reading and writing promotion program, sponsored in cooperation with Affiliate, State Centers for the Book
The Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, in cooperation with Affiliate State Centers for the Book, invites readers in grades 4 through 12 to enter Letters About Literature, a national reading-writing contest.
To enter, readers write a personal letter to an author, living or dead, from any genre—fiction or nonfiction, contemporary or classic, explaining how that author’s work changed the student’s way of thinking about the world or themselves. The letters we receive are windows of understanding what young people think about, hope for, and fear. They are friendly and conversational, sometimes funny and sometimes painfully honest.
There are three competition levels: Level I for children in grades 4 through 6; Level II for grades 7 and 8, and Level III, grades 9–12. Winners, announced in the spring of each year, receive cash awards at the national and state levels. Deadline to enter is usually in December or January. Check back for more info.
First place winners in each category receive $100. Second place winners receive checks for $75, while third place finalists walk away with $50 each. The school or public libraries of the first place winners each receive a $1,000 cash prize. The cash prizes are courtesy of the Friends of the Oklahoma Center for the Book and Attorney Laurie Williams.
Some examples of letters: For Paul, a middle school student in Colorado, Charles Lindbergh’s flight across the Atlantic as recounted in The Spirit of St. Louis helped him to rise above depression. For Lucas, a high school student in North Dakota, deliverance from drugs came after reading Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries. Kristiana Gregory’s description of Cleopatra (Cleopatra VII, Daughter of the Nile) rolling herself in a rug in order to meet the Roman emperor Julius Caesar seemed a little foolish to nine-year-old Analyssa from Illinois. She wrote to the author, “Why would you roll yourself in a rug when you could just go up and talk to him?”
Some tips: Do not summarize the book’s plot. After all, the author wrote the book and already knows what happened. What the author doesn’t know is how the book affected you. Don’t write a fan letter—instead of trying to impress, express yourself honestly. Just tell the author how his or her work somehow made a difference in your life.
For more information, view the previous contest’s Letters About Literature Guidelines and Entry Coupon (pdf).