National University Young Writers Competition in Fresno Marks its 20th Anniversary

Annual event encourages area students in 4th-12th grades to explore poetry; May 3 is deadline for this year’s competition, with winners recognized May 19

Fresno, Calif. – Each spring, hundreds of young students in the Central Valley are inspired to express themselves through poetry and prose thanks to the annual Young Writers Competition sponsored by the Fresno campus of National University. This year, the tradition marks a very special milestone as the community celebrates the competition’s 20th anniversary.

With the competition in full swing during April, which is National Poetry Month, students explore annual themes such as heroes, cultural traditions and this year’s theme of "Remember When…" Students compete in one of three grade-level categories (4th through 12th) for cash prizes that range from $100 to $200, and this year’s award winners will be announced May 19. In addition to the recognition, the experience has the potential to change young lives in positive ways.

"I’ve seen both introspective and troubled teens who altered the course of their future by discovering their inner voice," said Dr. Vicki L. Martineau-Gilliam of the National University College of Letters and Sciences. "Poetry allows kids a unique opportunity to share what is in their hearts, and many of our winners over the years have found that writing can be not only personally gratifying, but also life changing. It has given them a reason to explore their creativity and believe in their self-worth."

The Fresno poetry competition was started by Howard V. Hendrix, who was then an aspiring novelist teaching humanities courses at National University’s Fresno campus. His motivation was to encourage unpublished young practitioners of poetry and prose. Two decades later, he is an established author, and the competition has become something of an institution in the Central Valley – carried on by new generations of National University faculty members.

"I’m honored that the event continues, and that it has had such an impact," said the former faculty member who published his first three novels while teaching in Fresno at the National University campus. "I had no idea it would have lasted this long. I’m very pleased."

In 1998, a year after starting the first National University Young Writers Competition, Professor Hendrix enlisted the support of Dr. Martineau. The two of them built the event up over the next few years, to the point where it was attracting up to 500 participants from as many as 100 schools throughout the region. Hendrix eventually left his teaching post at National University to pursue writing full-time, but the 2017 competition will be Professor Martineau’s 19th year leading the event.

"One year the contest featured cultural traditions, and another year we asked contestants to write about someone who inspired them," said professor Martineau. "Our largest contest yet, with approximately 500 entries, featured Leon Leyson, the youngest survivor of Schindler’s List, who met with many of these student poets to share his experiences during the Holocaust."

The competition has become a rite of spring in Fresno and the Central Valley, bringing together National University faculty and staff each spring to promote and sustain the annual event. That includes professor Martineau, who is assisted by the administrative assistant to the faculty, Frederick Schnur, along with numerous staff members at all levels at the Fresno campus. They help get the word out about the competition by reaching out to local school districts, schools and principals and local newspapers. Some schools even put the contest on their marquees.

"Over the years, the National University Young Writers Competition has given a voice to several generations of poets, essayists and novelists," said National University associate regional dean, Dr. Bernell Hirning. "It’s a simple yet key talent to multiple forms of success," he added. "These kids pick up a pen, put it to paper and create magic. While connecting person to person, it has also connected National University to the Central Valley area at all levels of education. That’s really powerful."

HOW TO ENTER THE COMPETITION: This year’s competition encourages students to explore a special memory or past events through the theme of "Remember When…" Entries are due by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 3, 2017.  Applicants are encouraged to email their submissions to Frederick Schnur at fschnur@nu.edu, or mail them to the attention of Frederick Schnur at 20 E. River Park Place West, Fresno, CA 93720. Include the words, "Young Writers Competition," in the subject line of the email or on the mailing envelope. Each submission must include the contestant’s name, grade level, school, teacher and a contact phone number for the contestant’s parent or teacher.

About National University
Founded in 1971, National University is the second-largest private, nonprofit institution of higher education in California. With more than 150,000 alumni, National University is the flagship institution of the National University System. National University is dedicated to making lifelong learning opportunities accessible, challenging, and relevant to a diverse population of students. Four schools and two colleges – the Sanford College of Education; the College of Letters and Sciences; the School of Business and Management; the School of Engineering and Computing; the School of Health and Human Services; and the School of Professional Studies – offer more than 100 graduate and undergraduate degrees and 13 teacher credentials and licenses. Programs are offered at locations throughout California and across the nation, and are also available online. National University is headquartered in La Jolla, California. To learn more, visit www.nu.edu.