Essay contest pushes writers’ limits in hour-long challenge

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Essay contest pushes writers’ limits in hour-long challenge

Contestants must complete an essay on a topic given at the beginning of the one-hour contest. Photo: Esther John

Writing a paper the night before it is due is nothing compared to what the Extemporaneous Writing Contest has to offer.

Held Feb. 22 in Lecture B. the Extemporaneous Writing Contest is a creative nonfiction contest in which students are given a topic and must write an essay in just one hour.

According to contest moderator and judge Sid Silvester, a member of the Division of English Language and Literature, participating students are given the topic upon arrival and write the essay without preparation.

Students may leave early, but all essays not turned in by the end of the hour are collected. The essay cannot be done electronically, and no resources are available during the writing period.

“They may treat the topic seriously or whimsically, ironically or straightforward, biographically or autobiographically,” Silvester said. “They must write it in an essay, paragraph format that aims for some kind of point.”

According to Silvester, grammar counts in this essay but spelling, within reason, does not. The handwriting must be reasonably legible or judges will reject the essay.

The contest is open to the entire University, not just writing-affiliated or English-related majors.

“Oftentimes we will have winners who are from majors other than the writing or communication majors,” Silvester said.

There is no prize, but the name of the winner is announced at the end of the academic year during the Awards Ceremony.

The popularity of the writing contest has increased in the past couple of years according to Silvester.

He said the increase may be due to the increase in English and English-related majors, although there may be no clear correlation. In the last two years, 30 to 40 students participated.

The essays are not published anywhere after the contest has concluded.

“Although the writers produce good work despite being under a massive time constraint and pressure, it would be a little much to attempt to publish the work done in the contest,” Silvester said.

“There is only one draft, and not enough time for polish,” Silvester said.

“However, I’ve kept every winning essay since 1992, and whenever I pass from the scene here, someone else may take them and do with them what they wish.”

Past topics Silvester listed included means of escape, the benefit of a doubt, idleness and question of character.

The first topic ever written under Silvester’s proctor in 1992’s contest was “The Best Day of the Year.” Last year’s topic was titled, “Stairs”.

“Sometimes it will be a phrase, sometimes it will be a specific noun, or perhaps an action that the students have to do something with,” Silvester said.