Traverse City Record-Eagle

Northern Living

September 30, 2012

Award winner another local writing gem

The Grand Traverse Region has another feather in its cap. The region, already known as a readers' and writers' paradise, helped produce this year's Norman Mailer High School Fiction Writing Award winner, Brittany Newell.

Newell, of Belvedere, Calif. and currently a Stanford University literary division student, will be presented with the award and a check for $5,000 at the Norman Mailer Center's fourth annual benefit gala Thursday in New York City.

Honorary Chairman Tina Brown (Newsweek and The Daily Beast) and an advisory board of writers including Joan Didion, William Kennedy, Nobel Laureate Gunter Grass, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Gay Talese will host the awards ceremony that celebrates renowned and emerging writers — part of an evening that includes networking, cocktails and dinner.

Most of the credit for Newell's success goes to Interlochen Arts Academy, where she honed her skills as a creative writing major last year, and where poetry instructor Anne-Marie Oomen recalls her as a "remarkable" student who "was using language in a way that nobody else was." The school's writing program has produced Presidential Scholars in the Arts and winners of the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, among other prestigious competitions.

But none of that would be possible without a region that embraces the writing arts and offers guidance, encouragement and opportunities for young and not-so-young writers alike. From the National Writers Series, which provides scholarships to Grand Traverse area students pursing writing careers, to Michigan Writers, a support, education and gathering site for writers in northwest Lower Michigan, to The Glen Arbor Art Association, which publishes the northern Michigan literary journal Dunes Review in conjunction with Michigan Writers, the region has become a mecca for those who love the written word.

Then there's Interlochen itself, which is gearing up for its biennial Virginia Ball Creative Writing Contest. The competition offers lucky — and talented — writers like Newell, its 2010-2011 winner, $30,000 scholarships to attend the Academy.

So as Newell picks up her award before the likes of 500 distinguished guests from the worlds of literature, culture, business and philanthropy — among them Pulitzer Prize, Booker Prize and National Book Award winners — a little bit of northern Michigan goes with her.

Reach staff writer Marta Hepler Drahos at mdrahos@record-eagle.com.

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