Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Continues to Inspire Young Writers

Newspaper article The Tuscaloosa News

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Continues to Inspire Young Writers

Article excerpt

TUSCALOOSA | Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Bragg on Friday told a group of high school students that they are the largest collection of outstanding writers he will see all year.

Included in that group was 18-year-old Austin Ward, who was selected as the 2013 winner of the To Kill a Mockingbird High School Essay Contest by the University of Alabama Honors College.

The contest asks students to focus on an element of the iconic 1959 novel by Harper Lee of Monroeville, the only novel she ever published. The winning writer, along with his or her school, each receive $500.

Ward was chosen from among 63 other essayists, each of whom won his or her respective high school's contest to earn a trip to the Capstone for the annual luncheon and awards presentation.

For the fourth consecutive year, Bragg, an author, professor and former newspaper reporter, gave the keynote speech.

Bragg praised the efforts of each student in the room and implored them to embrace the power of the written word.

"Whether you know it or not, you have the power -- the incredible power -- to affect the lives of so many people around you," Bragg told the banquet's first overflow crowd since its 2002 inception. "You can make people feel better about being alive.

"That's the greatest power I know."

Bragg commended each of the young authors on winning what is likely the first writing award for many of them. He told them to continue to strive for more.

"It is a pleasure to welcome you into the fraternity of award- winning writers," said Bragg, who has won more than 70 awards -- including the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing -- in his career.

"Keep writing. Keep writing better than the person next to you. And keep entering contests, keep winning awards. Build a pyramid of them."

Starting his pyramid is Ward, a student at Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City. Ward's essay focused on the innocence and tolerance of Scout Finch, the book's protagonist and narrator.

"She wasn't biased," Ward said. "She saw things for what they were, rather than how the other people of the town, who believed what they wanted to believe.

"She wasn't like the rest of the town because of dad and her innocence. …

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