Just last weekend, the Friends of Omaha Public Library recognized 12 local students in grades five through eight for their excellence in creative writing as part of the annual Virginia Frank Memorial Writing Contest. Area youth submitted original works of fiction featuring a character from a book they read and enjoyed.

Writers had the choice to either expand on the original work or take the characters on a completely new adventure. Two hundred and thirty-four stories were read by a group of educators, and three from each grade were selected as winners, which can now be seen on the Omaha Public Library’s website, omahalibrary.org.

The contest, now in its 16th year, is named in honor of longtime Friends of Omaha Public Library volunteer and Omaha educator Virginia Frank. Frank grew up in Omaha and taught English literature and creative writing at the University of Nebraska at Omaha for 38 years. The passion she had for young people is celebrated during this annual campaign designed to encourage students to explore and develop their creative writing talents.

Creative writing plays an important role in literacy development, and yet, it doesn’t always get the time and attention it deserves in cultures that value expository writing.

The benefits of creative writing are bountiful. In a letter to the editor of Education Week, English teacher Mike Miller pointed out that, “Creative writers ... are better able to see issues from multiple perspectives because they write from viewpoints different from their own, and they often arrive at more sophisticated conclusions than those students who write nonfiction essays only from their personal experience.”

Founder and executive director of Writopia Lab, an organization that runs creative workshops for young writers, Rebecca Wallace-Segall wrote, “In our work, we’re reminded again and again that fiction writing is as important as any other genre for children and teens as they learn to write.

“It not only provides them with a safe space to make sense of the human dynamics around them, but it teaches them writing at the highest level, going beyond lucidity into the realm of literary tension, and then further into humor, narrative complexity, abstraction and metaphor.”

Through creative writing, children and teens are also provided with the opportunity to indulge their imaginations, develop their voices and explore issues as a way to better understand and cope with them. They learn to organize their ideas and develop persuasive arguments.

So, how do we encourage young people to write creatively? As a longtime reader and occasional writer, I’ve always found Stephen King’s recommendation from his book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” to be inspirational: “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”

Reading and writing go hand-in-hand, so finding books that pique one’s curiosity is a must! The Omaha Public Library can help with recommendations, or one can request a custom book list just for them.

It’s also important to look for opportunities to practice skills. The Teen Creative Writing Club at Benson Branch welcomes writers ages 12 to 18, and sharpens creativity and writing skills through fun prompts and exercises. It’s also a great opportunity to share work with peers and get valuable feedback.

If today’s young writers keep trying, we hope to see their stories make their way from being featured on the library’s website, to being checked out by library patrons.

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