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Announcing The New Hampshire Writers’ Project Student Essay Contest

on Mon, 01/18/2016 - 23:46

Purpose: To enable New Hampshire high school and college students to share their stories and ideas about critical contemporary issues in order promote civil discourse through the transformative power of the written word.


Procedure: Students are invited to submit an essay of up to 500 words to their school liaison, a designated teacher or administrator at their school, in response to a specific question. School administrators may determine how to evaluate these submissions and may nominate three finalists from their school to be judged by the contest committee at the New Hampshire Writers’ Project (NHWP).  Please see eligibility requirements below.

Prizes: $1000 Grand Prizes will be awarded to one high school and one college winner from the five high school and five college finalists selected by the NHWP. All finalists will receive a one-year membership to NHWP and a scholarship to Writers’ Day, April 23, 2016 at Southern New Hampshire University where they will have an opportunity to meet and study with critically-acclaimed authors, including Andre Dubus III, Ann Hood, Benjamin Nugent and David Yoo.


January 15, 2016 (Martin Luther King’s Birthday): Essay Question Announced

February 12, 2016 (President Lincoln's Birthday): Student Submission Deadline. All entries must be submitted to a designated school liaison by 5:00 p.m., February 12, 2016.

March 1, 2016: Nominations Deadline: The school liaison should send their top three student essays to by 5:00 p.m., March 1, 2016.

March 25, 2016: NHWP announces five high school and five college finalists. Essays from all finalists will be read by an independent panel of nationally renowned writers, editors, and/ or publishers.  All finalists as well as their family members and/or a teacher of their choice will be invited to the awards ceremony to be held during Writers' Day at Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday, April 23, 2016.

April 15, 2016:  Judges vote for the winning high school and winning college essay.

April 23, 2016:  A grand prize of $1000 will be awarded to the winning high school and the winning college student at Writers’ Day.

Eligibility Requirements: Students must be or must have been enrolled in a New Hampshire high school or college between September 1, 2015 and August 31, 2016. Home school students should apply through the school in their district.  Any student who is unable to apply through their school because the school chooses not to participate, or because they are no longer enrolled at a participating NH school, may contact the NHWP at to request an alternative submission option.



2016 New Hampshire Writers’ Project Essay Contest Question


In New Hampshire today, how does race divide and/or unite our students, schools, and communities?


Students may choose to speak from personal experience about their identity and interactions with others, including whether their relationships across racial lines are limited to the classroom or the playing field.  Do they feel safe, welcome, and valued at their schools and in their communities?  Would their answer be different if they were of a different race? Students may also choose to reflect upon historical trends or recent local and national events, or they may limit the scope of their essay to a particular moment in time when race directly impacted them or someone else. Judges will be looking for a powerful, original voice, a compelling story, and a cohesive narrative.  Essays must be limited to 500 words (not including the title), double-spaced, and in a twelve-point Times New Roman font.


Background Information: New Hampshire has a long and complex relationship with social justice and civil rights. On a warm spring near the end of the eighteenth century, a former slave named Oney Judge stepped off a ship in Portsmouth, New Hampshire where abolitionists helped her establish a new life.  Ms. Judge had recently escaped from the home of President George Washington, who later signed the Fugitive Slave Act into law in an attempt to have her returned; the people of New Hampshire refused to comply.  Under their protection, Oney Judge married, raised three children, and died decades later, by law, a fugitive slave, but in the eyes of many of the people who knew her, a free woman.  


By March of 1860, when Abraham Lincoln came to Hew Hampshire to visit his son at Phillips Exeter Academy, attitudes toward slavery had divided families, communities, and the nation. A reporter who heard Lincoln speak then in Smyth Hall on Elm Street in Manchester wrote that Mr. Lincoln

…stated in his speech here, that there were two great classes of minds in this country who were arrayed against each other on the subject of slavery; those who believe it right, and those who believe it wrong. He said that no man could be consistent or sincere, who said that he thought slavery to be wrong who did not labor for its overthrow. (Elwin L. Page, Abraham Lincoln in New Hampshire, pp. 49-50, Manchester Union Democrat.)


A century later, on another March afternoon in 1965, Jonathan Daniels, a young seminary student from Keene, New Hampshire, traveled to Selma at the urging of Martin Luther King. In August of that year, Daniels was shot and killed when he jumped in front of a gun pointed at young black activist named Ruby Sales. Last January, as the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Selma approached, Rob Hirschfeld the 10th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire noted,


It’s fair to say that New Hampshire sees itself as rather insulated from the stresses around  

race in the United States…But if you go through Jonathan Daniels and who he was, we  

played a very important role. (Ray Duckler, The Concord Monitor, January 18, 2015)


Today, in light of debates sparked by the shooting deaths of unarmed black children and the escalating refugee crisis in Syria, in a state where over eighty different languages can be heard in high school and college classrooms as international students and New Americans from countries across the world gather to study with and learn from each other, are New Hampshire students insulated from the stresses around race? What can you contribute to this ongoing conversation?