Letters About Literature Contest Honors Maryland Student Writers and Presents the Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year Award

April 25, 2017

Letter-Writing Contest Coordinated by Maryland Humanities
Engaged Nearly 1,900 Maryland Students This Year

(Baltimore, MD) – Have you ever wanted to tell an author how his or her words changed your life? Sixty-one Maryland students were honored for sharing these perspectives with their favorite authors on April 22rd at the Maryland Humanities 2017 Letters About Literature Awards Ceremony. The Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year Award, honoring a Maryland teacher who works to promote reading by employing creative teaching methods, was also presented during the awards ceremony. Local author Debbie Levy delivered the keynote address.

Letters About Literature is a national writing contest that encourages young readers in grades 4 to 12 to write to the author of a book expressing how that book changed their view of themselves or the world. A signature program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, Letters About Literature is implemented at the state level by the Maryland Center for the Book at Maryland Humanities. This year over 36,000 students competed nationwide, with just under 1,900 of them hailing from Maryland. First-place winners on the state level advance to the national competition.

The contest inspires creativity, encourages life-long readers, and develops critical reading and writing skills that students need to be successful in life. State judges select top essayists on three levels: Level 1 for young readers in grades 4 through 6; Level 2 for grade 7 and 8 readers; and Level 3 for readers in grades 9 to 12. Then, a panel of judges for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress selects one national winner per competition level, each of whom will receive a $1,000 cash prize. A second place winner is selected at each competition level as well, and these national awardees each receive a $200 cash prize.

The 2017 winning Maryland Contest letters: 

Level 1: Tori Delaine Johnson, from Bowie, wrote her letter to Natasha Anastasia Tarpley about her book I Love My Hair!

Level 2: Salihah Aakil, from Silver Spring, wrote her letter to Warsan Shire about her poem “Ugly.”

Level 3: Angela Estavillo, from Notre Dame Preparatory School in Towson, wrote her letter to Richard Lewis about his novel The Killing Sea.

This year’s awards ceremony took place April 22nd at the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Auditorium at Mercy High School Baltimore. All Maryland state finalists were presented with an award certificate. The winner and runner up for each level also received a cash prize. To view a complete list of Maryland state finalists, visit www.mdhumanities.org. For information about the national program, visit www.read.gov/letters.

The 2017 Christine Sarbanes Teacher of the Year Winner: Melanie Coates

Melanie Coates is the English Department Chair at Catonsville High School in Baltimore County. A graduate of the University of Maryland College Park, Ms. Coates is a product of Baltimore County public schools, where she’s been a teacher for almost 25 years. She has taught at her alma mater, Catonsville High School, for the past 17 years, and her sons attend CHS now. She teaches several English and writing courses and is adviser to The Comet, the school newspaper.

Ms. Coates works to make reading come alive for students. She successfully secured funding for a one-day residency of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company, during which ninth-grade students engaged in workshops to fully immerse themselves in the world of Shakespeare. She puts great effort into striking a careful balance between test preparation and cultivating a love for language in both reading and writing through various classroom activities that connect current events with seminal American texts.

Ms. Coates’ students know that she’s a passionate reader who always has a recommendation ready. They come to her classroom to check out what she has on her bookshelves throughout the year and before summer vacation, knowing that they will leave with a bag full of books to enjoy.

Keynote Speaker: Debbie Levy
Debbie Levy 
is the award-winning author of many books of nonfiction and fiction for young people, including Soldier SongThe Year of GoodbyesDozer’s Run, and I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, which received the 2017 Sydney Taylor Award and the 2016 National Jewish Book Award, among other honors. A former lawyer and newspaper editor, she holds a bachelor’s degree in government and foreign affairs from the University of Virginia, and a law degree and master’s degree in world politics from the University of Michigan. She lives in Maryland with her husband.

About Maryland Humanities

Maryland Humanities is a statewide, educational nonprofit organization that creates and supports educational experiences in the humanities that inspire all Marylanders to embrace lifelong learning, exchange ideas openly, and enrich their communities. For more information, visit www.mdhumanities.org. Maryland Humanities is generously supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the State of Maryland, private foundations, corporations, small businesses, and individual donors.

About the Maryland Center for the Book

The Maryland Center for the Book (MCFB), one of 52 state affiliates of the national Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, develops and supports literary programs and outreach activities that engage citizens across Maryland in literature and reading. As a program of the Maryland Humanities Council, MCFB highlights our region’s literary heritage and calls attention to the importance of books, reading, literacy and libraries. MCFB has satellites at Talbot County Free Library and Washington County Free Library.

About Letters About Literature

Letters About Literature is an annual writing contest that promotes reading and writing, inspires creativity, and encourages young people to be lifelong readers. This year’s annual writing contest for young readers is made possible by a generous grant from the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, with additional support from gifts to the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, which promotes the contest through its affiliate Centers for the Book, state libraries and other organizations.


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