Youth Programs

Letters About Literature Contest

Is there a writer whose work speaks directly to you? Have you ever wanted to speak directly back to your favorite writer? Letters About Literature is a chance for students from across the nation to share stories of how their favorite books, poems, and speeches have shaped their lives. Each year, tens of thousands of students submit letters to their favorite authors expressing how their work has affected them. Maybe you’ve read a novel that has reshaped how you understand yourself, or a speech that has changed your perspective on the world, or a poem that gave voice to your feelings. If so, this may be the contest for you.

The letters will be judged by authors, publishers, librarians, and educators at the state and national levels. Oregon selects one winner and one runner-up for the Level 3 competition. Last year, the state winner and runner-up received prizes of $100 and $50 respectively. Honorable mentions and semi-finalists received bookstore gift certificates. At the national level, the first-place winner receives a $1,000 cash prize and the runner-up receives a $200 cash prize. Read the letters of past winners at the national and state levels.
Rules and guidelines for the contest may be found in a Word document that can be downloaded here (click the “Rules and Guidelines” link in the first paragraph). Here are some basic details to get you started:

  1. Students in grades 9-12 submit work in the “Level 3” category. The deadline to submit a Level 3 letter is December 10, 2013. Letters should between 600 and 1500 words in length.
  2. You should spend some time reflecting on which book to select. You’ll want to choose a piece of work for which you have strong feelings and opinions. The Library of Congress recommends that you consider these questions:
    • What did the book show you about your world that you never noticed before?
    • What did you realize about yourself as a result of reading this book?
    • Why was this work meaningful to you?
    • How do you know the author’s work influenced you?
  3. Write a letter to the author of the work that you’ve chosen in which you relate honestly, in your own voice, and in concrete detail the meaning that work holds in your life. You should write as if you’re having an informal conversation with the author. Your letter shouldn’t be a fan letter, and should focus on your own experiences and feelings.
  4. Have your Level 3 letter postmarked by December 10, 2013. The letter, enclosed in an envelope with a return address along with an entry coupon (to download, see the “Rules and Guidelines” document available here), should be mailed to the following address:

Letters About Literature
Competition Level 3
P.O. Box 5308
Woodbridge, VA 22194

Finally, check out some of the cool envelope art that contestants have created for their submissions to Letters About Literature.


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