Tacoma’s rich history sparks creativity in inaugural youth writing competition

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In 1935, the “Battle in Tacoma,” part of labor strikes along the West Coast among timber workers seeking higher wages and better working conditions, centered on the 11th and A Street intersection and the 11th Street Bridge, now called the Murrray Morgan Bridge. Photo courtesy of Tacoma Public Library, Richards Studio

On July 12, 1935, at the intersection of 11th and A Street in Tacoma, the timber workers strike boiled over into a violent confrontation between timber workers and the Washington National Guard. History was written.

In anticipation of Historical Preservation Month in May, the City of Tacoma’s Historic Preservation Office, in partnership with local literary nonprofits Write253 and Creative Colloquy, and also Tacoma Public Library, is accepting submissions of creative historical fiction from youth 18 and under through March 30 as part of the inaugural youth historical fiction competition that aims to bring to life some of Tacoma’s lesser-known historical milestones and landmarks like the timber workers strike at 11th and A Street.

“I think we really want to introduce students to episodes in Tacoma’s history through a creative way,” said Michael Haeflinger, executive director of Write253. “We find that young writers are often really excited by universe building and fan fiction, and by casting some key moments in the city’s history – especially those that arose out of injustices and reactions to those injustices – we hope to offer an opportunity for young people to bring that history to life in the minds of their readers.”

Anneka Olson, an intern for the Historic Preservation Office, said the idea for the competition was rooted in the Office’s desire to reach new audiences – especially youth – and connect with Tacoma’s history, and more specifically, the history of the city’s built and natural environment.

“One thing that is exciting about historic preservation is that it allows you to pinpoint a particular street or place or building and tie them to larger themes in history, and people don’t always understand the site-specific piece,” said Olson, who also is a graduate student in UW-Tacoma’s urban studies program. “Our interest was to connect with specific writings and pinpointing them to a specific place or building, and now youth can do the writing and pinpoint the writing to a specific place.”

In her role at the Preservation Office, Olson had the fun task of performing historical research and pulling together the primary and secondary sources to include in the resource guide designed specifically for teachers who are encouraged to guide their students through writing historical fiction set in Tacoma.

The Preservation Office performed targeted outreach to history, social studies, and English teachers in the Tacoma School District, as well other education organizations, including the Washington State Historical Society.

“We figured that this is the most likely way we will have students participate in this competition,” Olson said. “We would be thrilled if teachers used it as a classroom assignment and encourage any student to take the assignment and run with it.”

The resource guide, made available at cityoftacoma.org/youthfictioncompetition or at write253.com/historicalfictioncontest, includes four historical prompts, a discussion guide, and additional resources. To get students’ creative juices flowing, Write253 is hosting Saturday drop-in writing sessions from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Feb. 24, March 10 and March 24. Competition guidelines are also available at the aforementioned web links.

The story must be 2,000 words or less and include a short informal bibliography listing primary and secondary sources. The competition is open to any student of high school age in Pierce County or those students completing their GED.

Judging the entries will be Michael Sullivan, local historian and storyteller; Daniel Person, a writer and journalist; Jennifer Mortensen, member of the Tacoma Landmarks Commission and staff person at the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation; Renee Simms, writer and professor of African-American studies at University of Puget Sound; and Tamiko Nimura, a freelance journalist and community writer.

Winners will be announced May 1. First, second and third-place winners will be awarded cash prizes and publication on the Creative Colloquy website. Winners will have the opportunity to read their work at Creative Colloquy’s May reading series at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 21 at Black Kettle Bites and Brew (744 Market St.).

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