Letters About Literature

Letters About Literature Comes to an End

It is bittersweet to announce that after 27 years the Letters About Literature contest has ended. After much evaluation, the Library of Congress decided that the 2018–2019 contest would be the final year of Letters About Literature. With the loss of the infrastructure and administration the Library of Congress provided, we will not be continuing the contest. The Christine D. Sarbanes Teacher of the Year Award is ending with the conclusion of Letters About Literature. We thank all of the teachers and students who made the program possible.

Has a book ever changed your view of the world or yourself?

For young readers in grades 4–12, our annual writing contest, Letters About Literature (LAL), encourages a love of reading and an appreciation for the power of words and ideas. Sponsored by the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, this contest not only promotes reading and writing, but also inspires creativity and encourages young people to be lifelong readers.

Every year, thousands of Maryland students submit a letter to the LAL Contest. In 2015, Marylander Juliana Gorman won a national honor for her letter to author Elie Wiesel (PDF). The LAL contest has winners and cash prizes at both the state and national levels.

How it works

Students are asked to read a book, poem or speech and write to the author (living or dead) about how the book affected them personally. Letters are judged on state and national levels. Tens of thousands of students from across the country enter Letters About Literature each year. Readers in grades 4–12 are eligible to enter the contest.



  • The process for submitting letters has changed.  Moving forward, Maryland entries can only be submitted via the online platform. No mailed entries will be accepted. The online submission platform can be accessed here.
  • Students under the age of 13 (as of 11/1/18) must obtain and upload signed permission from parent/legal guardian to be eligible for entry. The downloadable permission form can be found at http://read.gov/letters.
  • Letters must be at least 400 words and no more than 800 words.
  • Book reports and fan letters will be disqualified.
  • Entries that include addresses and personal contact information in the letter will be disqualified.

By the Numbers

  • ​16
    Maryland Counties participating in the 2018 Letters About Literature contest
  • ​1,820
    2018 Maryland Letters About Literature participants
  • 50
    Maryland schools participating in the 2018 Letters About Literature contest

The Maryland Center for the Book at Maryland Humanities, one of 52 state affiliates of the Library of Congress Center for the Book, coordinates Letters About Literature in Maryland.

The 26th 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.

  • “Over the past few years, I have noticed a decline in the number of students who read for pleasure. This type of contest certainly fosters that love of reading.”

    ​Letters About Literature teacher
  • “The year before last, one of my students lost her father to a heart attack at the beginning of the school year. Books were her connection to her father. The shock of the sudden passing, and the newness of having to take care of her younger siblings would not allow her to grieve, and she spent the first few months in therapy due to this. LAL enabled her to reconnect with her father on a different plane, through the framework of books they enjoyed together. Due to this, she was express her grief & allow healing to begin.”

    Letters About Literature teacher
  • “A few years ago a student connected with a novel describing a family merging from two families that had been traumatized by divorce. Her own family was in the process of this same event. Because of her selection I was able to learn what she was going through. No other assignment would have been quite so helpful for revealing and honoring her feelings.”

    Letters About Literature teacher
  • “This contest gives [students] a chance to practice [letter writing] while also expressing themselves about a work of literature or a particular author that has made an impact on them personally. As a teacher, I benefit from reading the letters because I always learn new things about each student.”

    ​Letters About Literature teacher
  • “Last year was the first time our school participated in the program and one of our students was selected! She was thrilled to be recognized and has been an inspiration to other students. I am so thankful for all the support provided by Maryland Humanities. They reach out and are incredibly helpful and willing to provide resources and opportunities. We appreciate the genuine interest they have in our students!”

    Letters About Literature teacher
  • “For the second year, my students are demonstrating an enthusiasm and effort that surpasses what they usually display. I know this is due to the wonderful opportunity you provide – a chance to write to their favorite author. Authentic communication truly inspires my students! … I am confident that this will become a significant memory in my students’ sixth grade experience. How wonderful that it should promote the beauty and the strength of the written word.”

    Letters About Literature teacher
  • “In a test-driven educational system, we can sometimes lose sight of what is important. Allowing students time to read and discuss literature can never be underestimated. I appreciate that Letters About Literature recognizes, promotes, and fosters the importance of literature by getting students to write to authors. This contest gives students the opportunity to really think about how a piece has impacted them. I know that the authors don’t necessarily read the letters addressed to them through the contest, but my students have often sent an additional copy of their letter to the author. The euphoria and excitement that comes over the kids who are lucky enough to have the author respond is heart-warming. Just this past year, a student of mine received a personal letter, an autographed book, and other items of appreciation from the author he wrote to.”

    ​Letters About Literature teacher
  • “Besides giving my students a relaxed writing situation with a non-threatening prompt (a personal letter, after all), your program challenges students to think ‘outside the box.'”

    ​Letters About Literature teacher
  • “I want to thank you for opening the door to writing about reading… By providing students with the opportunity to write about a genre and a book that is of interest, they are more willing to open up, get personal, and write to their full potential. It is amazing what children are able to produce when they enjoy the task at hand.”

    ​Letters About Literature teacher
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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.
Maryland Humanities
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Baltimore, Maryland 21201-4565
(410) 685-0095
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