August 24, 2019
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Two Searsport students take top prizes in statewide writing contest

Tom Groening | BDN
Tom Groening | BDN
From left: Amanda Dickey, teacher Jeff Shula and Brianna Housman.

SEARSPORT, Maine — It wasn’t werewolves or teen romance but addiction and stereotyping that inspired the fiction writing of two Searsport District High School students. And for their efforts, Brianna Housman and Amanda Dickey, both 16, earned $2,500 each.

The students were among the three top in the annual Maine Community College System’s “A Journey Into Writing” contest, also garnering them acclaim as 2012 Governor’s Young Writers of the Year.

The contest, in its eighth year, is open to high school juniors around the state. That two of the three winners, from a field of 151 entrants from 43 schools, are from the same high school is unusual. Housman and Dickey both are students of English teacher Jeff Shula, who explained that the submissions are judged without the writer’s name or school.

The third winner was Gaelyn Lindauer of Bonny Eagle High School in Standish.

Students must submit works of no more than 1,500 words, which can be essays, short stories or poems. Housman and Dickey both wrote short stories, though neither had much experience with the literary form.

Dickey said her first run at story writing took as its focus her pet dog. But in consultation with her teacher, she jettisoned this idea and instead created a story whose theme centered on the stereotyping and cliques that can inspire pain in adolescents, called “No One to Hear Her.”

“Everyone sees her this way, but she’s really something else,” Dickey said of her central character.

“This takes guts for a high school student to crumple up what she had and start over,” Shula said, but that’s what Dickey did.

The subject is one about which she is passionate, her teacher added; Dickey serves on the school’s civil rights team, which works to prevent such social stigmatization. “Her antennae are always up” for such problems, Shula said.

Dickey revised her story countless times, she said, but agreed with her teacher that each subsequent version improved.

Housman wrote about her mother. But it was not an easy topic to tackle, she said. “She Fell” unblinkingly details life with a parent who abuses alcohol.

After her parents divorced, Housman decided to deal with her feelings through writing, “to make something beautiful out of something ugly,” as she put it. The title functions both literally and metaphorically, Housman said, as the story chronicles a family falling apart.

“It was very hard to write. I started crying when I started,” she recalled. Housman told her mother what the story was about and asked her to read it. After initially declining, her mother, who is recovering from her addiction, gave Housman her blessing to publish it.

“It was very liberating,” Housman said of the process.

And her mother was very courageous to allow the story to see the light of day, Shula noted.

Housman wanted her story not to reveal that the central character was the girl’s mother until the end of the story, but Shula wanted it more apparent at the outset. The final version seems to be a compromise.

“They had a lot of patience with me,” Shula said with a smile.

In addition to their writing, the girls have other arts interests; Dickey is an amateur photographer and Houseman acts in theatrical productions. Housman hopes to study music therapy; Dickey is thinking about studying liberal arts and possibly journalism.

The girls got to meet Gov. Paul LePage, who presented them with checks and a large plaque.

The three other finalists were Alex Lurie of Brooks, a junior at Mount View High School in Thorndike; Olivia Dubois, a junior at Old Orchard Beach High School; and James Austin of Farmingdale, a junior at Hall-Dale High School. These three students were given a check for $500.

Unicel donated the prize money.

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