Poignant letter wins national writing prizeAlexandra McLaughlin’s letter to author Tim O’Brien won a $10,000 for library
By: Emily Zimmer, Rosemount Town Pages
Alexandra McLaughlin read the book “The Things They Carried” for school but the book written by author Tim O’Brien has had a lasting impact on her life.
“I feel connected to it. It really impacted my life and worldview,” said McLaughlin.
Looking for scholarships McLaughlin came across the Letters about Literature writing contest. The contest is sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress. According to the contest’s website 70,000 young readers from across the country participate each year.
McLaughlin submitted a letter about the book that changed her life. “The Things They Carried” is a fictional collection of related stories about the men of Alpha Company during the Vietnam War.
An avid writer, McLaughlin struggled with grief after her mom’s unexpected death. A few months after her mom’s death, McLaughlin was assigned to read the book as part of a class and was surprised when it spoke to her on such a deep level. In her letter, McLaughlin shares how O’Brien’s book helped her cope and inspired her write.
“I realized from your book that stories could keep a person alive,” McLaughlin wrote to O’Brien.
Before writing the letter, McLaughlin said she thought a lot about it and then sat down and typed it. She had her three siblings proofread her letter, then sent it in and sort of forgot about it.
McLaughlin didn’t expect to win, but a few weeks ago her brother texted her while she was in class to tell her she had won. McLaughlin and Amber-Nicole Watty of Georgia were named the Level 3 National Winners, which includes students in grades 9 through 12.
“I was really surprised and really happy,” said McLaughlin.
For her effort McLaughlin received a $500 Target gift card. McLaughlin also got to choose a library to receive a $10,000 grant and she chose the Robert Trail Library.
“We are elated and honored,” said Kathy Kleckner, a Robert Trail librarian.
The library will hold a reception for McLaughlin at 4 p.m. June 21. The awards will be presented and refreshments will be served.
McLaughlin, Rosemount High School’s English Student of the Year, graduated June 2. She will attend Macalester College in the fall and hopes to pursue either an English or journalism degree so she can keep writing.
“I really love (writing). It helps me with things I’m going through.”