Author Jana Laiz shared her own personal story as a young writer to now a published author of multiple books.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — As a child, Jana Laiz didn't like to read.
She loved to write but she didn't like to read, despite her mother's attempts to get her to do so. And then one day, a librarian helped her find the perfect book. She devoured it and went back for more. And then her writing improved.
She read more. Her writing improved. The more she read, the better her writing became.
Now she has seven published books and working on more. Writing has allowed her to travel, meet all kinds of people, and do interesting things. Her books are being turned into movies and plays. They are being used in classrooms.
And it comes from both reading and writing voraciously as a youth.
"When you are a great reader, you become a great writer. You get inspiration from other authors and take those words that you learn and put them in your own vocabulary," Laiz told a group of local youth writers at the Berkshire Athenaeum on Friday.
Laiz told the children, from as young as five to as old as 18, her story from her first writing notebook, to getting rejected from publishers, to overcoming writer's block, to successes. It was a story and a lesson that many of those youth can already relate with because they too have a passion for writing.
Laiz was addressing this year's winner of the library's annual children's and young adult short story writing contests. Each year the contest draws submissions from local youth and a panel of judges choose the winners. On Friday, those winners were honored with a reception and award ceremony.
The winners received the awards from Superintendent of Schools Jason McCandless.
"One the things I like best about all writing is that you can sort of get to know a person by reading not only what they write, but the way they write," McCandless told the award winners.
McCandless used the opening lines of Mary Had a Little Lamb to convey his fascination with writers and storytelling. He said stories themselves tend to be the same, "somebody gets into trouble, somebody gets out of trouble" but it is the way those stories that are told that are different.
"It is not necessarily the what, but how the writer tells it," McCandless said.
With Mary Had a Little Lamb, McCandless read three different versions of the same story. He recited a version loaded with social and political commentary, the way his oldest son would write it. He read a version told from the perspective as if his teenage daughter was Mary, and then a terse version that his other son would write. The base of the story was still Mary Had a Little Lamb, but the tone and the message varied with each author.
"I love hearing writer's voices. When we look at your stories what I will like best is hearing you as a young writer come through the written word. Only you can determine the words you want to use and the tone you want to get across, what order you want those words to go in. Only you can determine if the story will bring a tear to our eye or make us laugh or to set us back on our heels and make us think," McCandless said. "Only you can tell a story in your own way."
And he wants to read those stories every year. He told the children to continue to write and to strengthen their voices.
"Keep on writing. It is a pursuit you can follow from the time you can hold a crayon until the time somebody has to take dictation from you because you can't hold a crayon, pen, or type anymore," McCandless said.
The winners were then presented certificates for winning the individual divisions.
Age category: 5-6
1st place winner: Jocelyn Coco Gilardi
2nd place winner: Riley Burks
Honorable mention: Vincent Hines
Age category: 7-8
1st place winner: Natalie Hines
2nd place winner: Matthew Hurley
Honorable mention: Sydney Caropreso
Age category: 9-10
1st place winner: Gabrielle Mott
2nd place winner: Sandhya Ganesh
Honorable mention: Terra Lim
Age category: 11-12
1st place winner: Teagan Maxymillian
2nd place winner: Madeleine Grace Rocheleau Holmes
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