The indomitable power of the human spirit and its ability to survive intact in the face of adversity is the subject of Fairfield's 7th annual One Book One Town selection and the topic of a related writing competition, the winners of which were announced Thursday.
Local writers were invited by the Fairfield Public Library to submit unpublished works of no more than 300 words to the 4th annual competition on the subject, "What does the concept of survival mean to you?" The writing competition is usually open to people of all ages, but because of this year's topic it was only open to adults.
The book selected for this year's community reading project, "A House in the Sky," is a memoir by reporter Amanda Lindhout with Sara Corbett, and it recounts Lindhout's abduction by Somalis in 2008 and her survival in the "face of unspeakable conditions" during 15 months in captivity.
Contest entries ranged from dark to poignant to humorous. The first-, second- and third-place winners read their works at Thursday's Writers' Read-Around.
Rob Grosshart, who placed second, focused on a particular tragedy while, first-place winner John (J.D.) Hanninen tried to consider the anthology of many stories of suffering, courage and survival and what they teach. He thought of the suffering that author Lindhout experienced and all the tragedies reported in the news "and you wonder why? What is the meaning? What are we supposed to learn from that?" he asked rhetorically.
According to the title of Hanninen's essay, "And One Day We Shall Know," "We can endure; we can overcome; and we can triumph."
Most challenging about this exercise was to distill ideas into 300 words, Hanninen said. He used the exercise to seek through words "meaning, and hope and survival" and the process exposed to him "how feeble words are and how powerful at the same time."
Grosshart's essay, "In an Instant on a Day," took the audience of about a dozen people into a classroom during the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown and imagined the thoughts of a 6-year-old girl first paralyzed with fear and then flying "past the bad man. Out of the classroom. Out of the school. Out of life as she knew it."
"What set her tiny feet in motion that morning? Was it an instinct buried deep in the brain, or a divine push from the palm of God's hand?" Grosshart read from his composition.
"She may never know for sure," he said, concluding his story, into which he had interwoven scenes from "The Wizard of Oz," by saying --¦ like Dorothy, she found her way home. She survived."
Third-place recipient Mary Miner wrote a poem titled "Surviving Breaking Bad" in which she made an analogy between being addicted to meth and addicted to the popular television series referenced in the title.
"There is no show I have to watch, but I had to watch that show ... The poem is not light but it's humorous," Miner said.
Not all the essays tackled difficult subject matter. One writer used the contest to tell a comical story about their experience with an invasion of stink bugs, one of which managed to survive, temporarily anyway, when the writer placed the bug in the commode. It escaped its mummy-wrapping of toilet paper until the "flush." Contest co-chairwoman Louise MacCormack read that entry.
Donna Orazio, the contest co-chairwoman, said organizers purposely chose the 300-word limit for entries because "It makes every word that you put on the page carry its own weight. Every word counts."
Orazio said the Fairfield Public Library is known as "the writing library." The library hosts six writing groups and provides monthly opportunities for writers to read their work aloud. "It's like an open mic night. It's not a place for critique. It's a place to get comfortable hearing your own words spoken out loud," Orazio said.
"It's cool to actually have people like to hear what we wrote," Hanninen said.
Winners will attend a special reception for authors Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett on Wednesday. Lindhout and Corbett will speak and sign books that night at the Quick Center at Fairfield University. Even though the event is sold out, the library is still accepting names on a waiting list. Call 203-256-3155.
For more information visit http://www.fairfieldpubliclibrary.org