The English Festival at Youngstown State University celebrated its 35th year last week. The festival ran from Wednesday to Friday, occupying most of Kilcawley Center and welcoming close to 3,000 middle and high school students.
Student participants exercised their skills with creative writing games and book discussions, as well as poetry and prose workshops. They were required to read seven books from the festival booklist to be eligible for the event.
Sharon Draper, Nikki Grimes, Chris Crowe and Chris Crutcher were the acclaimed guest authors who offered lectures to students. During an awards ceremony on Friday, the festival honored its 100,000th student participant.
Jeff Buchanan, YSU English professor and co-chair of the Festival Committee, said the landmark helps the festival celebrate its past and commit to its future.
“It draws attention to the good work the festival has done over a significant period of time,” Buchanan said. “It tells people that the festival is part of our community and will continue to be.”
Tera Winebold, an eighth-grade student at Struthers Middle School, said she was excited to be named the 100,000th student participant.
“I didn’t know I was going to win, so it was very surprising,” Winebold said.
She said her favorite part of the festival was the opportunity to meet the authors, Draper being her favorite. Winebold said she “really loved her characters and the way she tells her stories.”
In attendance at the three-day festival were students and teachers from 200 middle and high schools from Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties in Ohio, and from Mercer and Lawrence Counties in Pennsylvania.
Kellie Brautigam, an English teacher at Canfield High School, was involved with the festival as a high school student. She also helped plan the event while attending YSU.
“Now, I’m getting to see it from the opposite side,” she said. “Being involved with the festival as an educator is a different kind of rewarding.”
Brautigam brought her group of ninth- and tenth-graders from Canfield to participate in the event. Hannah Mattix, Dan Sylak and Theresa Mikolay were three of her students who received awards. Mattix, Sylak and Mikolay won in the Williamson Fund Impromptu Writing Contest, the Renga Riot contest and in the Writing Games contest.
“I hope my students learned there’s a community of young readers and writers that are interested in literature, music and art,” she said. “Literature and language is something they can pursue and really use if it’s a strength of theirs.”
Buchanan said the festival is a success every year because students gather to hear the authors of books they enjoy reading. He said each activity requires intellect, and students are rewarded for it.
Participants were also encouraged to donate used books for a book drive. Donations were sent to various schools affected by Hurricane Sandy and to schools in the Philippines.