NEHS Creates Positive Impact for Cincinnati Literacy Network

Literacy Network of Greater CincinnatiEach year, our sister Society Sigma Tau Delta holds its international convention for university students and faculty. As a part of that tradition, National English Honor Society (NEHS) leaders, interested in making a positive literacy impact in the host city, research schools, programs, and organizations that may benefit from some financial support. This past year in Cincinnati, OH, NEHS staff was fortunate to spend some time with leaders from the Literacy Network of Greater Cincinnati (LNGC), an organization dedicated to supporting literacy growth for a range of individuals. LNGC trains tutors, holds fundraisers, and invests in the lives of many to improve reading and writing skills and, not surprisingly, change lives.

In March of this year, NEHS awarded a $2,500 grant to the Literacy Network to further their work; below is a note from Michelle Guenther, president of LNGC, thanking NEHS:

When we first met David Wendelin and learned about the National English Honor Society, we were incredibly impressed. After having the opportunity to attend the Sigma Tau Delta convention, learn about your motto, and spend time with the members of the Advisory Council, we were not only impressed, we were inspired!

DWendelin and WJohnson w LNGC

Left to right: NEHS Director Dave Wendelin; Annie Schneider, Shannon Lienemann, and Michelle Gunther of LNGC; and Sigma Tau Delta Executive Director William Johnson.

Your ability to turn your passion for English into action in your communities through tutoring and other community service-related activities is commendable! It is reassuring to see young people engaging in such admirable pursuits.

It has been said that the key to achieving your highest potential is to help others achieve theirs. Thank you for sharing your gifts in the service of others! You demonstrate that the impact you have on others is the most valuable currency there is.

The alignment of your mission with ours is a perfect fit. Your support will enable us to strengthen our community through the training of young people as literacy tutors. We know first-hand that when children develop strong reading skills, they also develop the confidence to live a life without limits.

We are honored and humbled to be the recipients of your magnanimous gift!

“Gelast Sceal Mid Are”

Dave WendelinDave Wendelin
NEHS Director

My Summer Study: Writing Short Story Fiction

Summer StudyIn the middle of July, I arrived at Brown University in Providence, RI, for a two-week course titled “Speculative Fiction Writing.”

The “classroom” had the appearance of a dining room: a long mahogany table took up most of the space, with six chairs lining each side and a chair on each end. There was a marble fireplace, an antique mirror, and two oil paintings that hung on opposite walls. Each day the professor would unlock the wooden double doors, walk briskly to the end of the table, and settle down with a brooding solemnity upon his face. When the grandfather clock struck three thirty, the professor’s face would light up; he would lean in and ask, “So what do you guys think of those pieces you’ve read for homework?” And upon that note, we would tuck into the exquisite taste of the short stories before us.

waiting for class to start

On the first day, Professor Michael Stewart did not give us a syllabus. Instead, he gave us a story. Tweaking the French folktale of “Bluebeard,” the professor had us hooked the whole hour with a whimsical “Once upon a time” land, the gruesome appearance and actions of the antagonist, the helplessness of the doomed damsel, and finally, the death blow that never came. I later learned that his story not only served as a grand opening of the course, but also introduced literary terms such as tone, tension, pace, and modality, became an example he could reference back to, and illustrated his point that a good story doesn’t have to mean anything. It just has to somehow captivate the readers.

In order to learn how to tell a good story, it’s always helpful to see the masters at work. Stewart had us read three to five short stories for homework every day. Some were classics such as “The Call of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft or excerpts from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, others I had a hard time finding online but were just as good in their own ways. In addition, we were to come up with a two-page short story every day, which had to fit the genre of each reading assignment. So I had a lot of fun making up a myth, tweaking a horror story, experimenting with magical realism, and writing in a non-human voice.

Each class started with Stewart leading a discussion about the readings he assigned. We would bring up any issues that came to mind: the way tension is created, a radical way of formatting, or a struggle with the ambiguity of the writer’s language. I soon learned that the masters do not like to be clear. They drop subtle hints of meaning and invite you in, to peel back their words and discover what lies underneath. And after all that work, lo and behold: there isn’t a “right” answer but multiple interpretations that make equal sense. I loved this seminar style class; my classmates never failed to amaze me with the depth of their interpretations, and the joy of discovering something new between the lines can be shared so easily.

After the discussion, we would break into small groups and workshop one another’s short stories. The professor had emphasized the importance of these workshops at the very beginning: “You will not come up with a very good story in such a short time, but through workshopping you will become a better editor to others’ and your own writing, which makes you a better writer.”  He was right about that. In contrast to our crude stories, the edits were needle sharp. Not only did we have to find what was working and what was not, we had to know why we thought that way. He was also right about another thing: “It’s very easy to find faults, but try to look for the good stuff in the stories. Finding faults will only help you write a not-so-terrible story; finding the good stuff can help you write a really good story.”

I spent that weekend writing a six-page short story, which was due on Monday. We were going to workshop everybody’s stories as a class that coming week, each person assigned to a twenty-minute slot to receive feedback about their work. The thought of thirteen people mulling over every word of my story and giving very honest, very straightforward feedback was troubling, and I did not sleep well the night before my story was workshopped.

It went better than I thought. In that intense twenty minutes, I scribbled down everything I could. The feedback I received helped me pinpoint what was unclear about my story, what could be developed further, what could be deleted, and what should be set up beforehand. I can still hear Stewart: “Show. Don’t tell” or “Too many modifiers here.”

Two weeks went by in a flash, and I was packing my suitcase before I knew it. Although the course was titled “Writing Speculative Fiction,” it was more like a whirlwind overview on many genres of fiction. I became acutely aware of just how much time a writer can put into his or her stories, whether it be sci-fi, myth, horror, or magical realism. Every sentence, every word, every punctuation does something for the reader; the sound or placement of a word is just as critical as its meaning. These realizations struck me and will forever change the way I read a story. Before I would flip ahead to discover the bottom of a mystery, now I read the same page over and over to find new meaning every time. Reading so meticulously brings me a different joy—of not just hurrying through the plot but piecing together hints in between the lines to uncover what the writer is really trying to say.

CLiuChelsea Liu
Junior Summer Study Stipend Recipient, 2017
Bohemia Chapter
Palos Verdes Peninsula High School, Rolling Hills Estates, CA

Junior Summer Study Award

The Junior Summer Study Award is presented to members of NEHS who are high school juniors, rising to the senior class in fall 2018. This award is intended to support students who have been selected for or who will be attending a summer learning program that is related to English studies in a direct way. Up to two awards for $750 will be offered each year.

This award is competitive in nature; applications will be evaluated by members of the Advisory Council of NEHS.

AwardSpring Application Link

Submissions due April 30, 2018, 11:59 p.m. CDT.

Read More from Past Recipients:

Junior Summer Study Program Facilitates Immense Personal Growth
Junior Summer Study Stipend Results in Unforgettable Learning Experience
People, Presence, and Perseverance: My Experience at the Vanderbilt Summer Academy
NEHS Junior Summer Stipend Recipient Attends Writers’ Workshop
Junior Summer Stipend Recipient at Cornell University

Annual African American Read-In: Book of Addis: Cradled Embers

African American Read-InOn February 22, in honor of African American History Month, Broad Run High School‘s English Department and chapter of National English Honor Society hosted the school’s fourth annual African American Read-In.

As the guests settled into their seats in the auditorium and the lights dimmed, the program began. The event opened with a recitation of the Black National Anthem. Following the anthem and an opening by an English teacher, Tilly Blanding, a local community leader, sang Wade in the Water, and encouraged the audience to sing along as well. Her voice rang through the auditorium and settled in our ears. Shortly after her beautiful performance, the Broad Run’s Step Team, Triumphant, danced grandly. Each step filled the air with empowerment. Each call impressed the audience. They were truly stellar.Mrs. Michele Evans, the coordinator for the event and an English teacher at Broad Run, introduced the main guest speaker, Brooke C. Obie. Obie began by talking about her journey. As a child, she craved for the praise of those around her. She wanted to do something amazing, so that she could leave a positive influence on society. She decided to become the first female, African-American Supreme Court Justice. She would eventually go to law school at Mercer University where she was the Eleventh Circuit Survey Editor for the Mercer Law Review. Obie mentioned that while she was at Mercer University, she worked on the defense team for several cases, including the US vs. Harris case. Obie said that while working on those cases, she realized that this wasn’t the way she wanted to change the world. She would eventually come upon writing fiction again after a long time. Obie read a few pages of her book, Book of Addis: Cradled Embers, to the audience. Her words resounded within the auditorium as we were brought into the world of Addis. Those few pages left us wanting more of the empowering book about a girl escaping her enslaver.

The program then transitioned so students and teachers could share their original pieces, and the work of some African-Americans whom they enjoy. There were poems, musical performances, and excerpts from books—all of which were amazing. The students and teachers truly displayed their emotions during the entire program. Finally, the event ended the way it began with the Broad Run chorus singing Wade in the Water.

It was an outstanding night. Voices echoed throughout the auditorium as the students and staff painted beautiful, and vivid images into our minds. The food, which was served after the program, melted into our mouths leaving us craving more. That night, tears and laughter roamed the halls of Broad Run.

Aazeen Bashir
Psi Epsilon Nu (PEN) Chapter
Broad Run High School, Ashburn, VA