CLEVELAND — – At the award ceremony of North Carolina Association of Scholastic Activities writing competition The Quill, organizers began announcing the placements, from tenth on up. Cleveland High School had never competed before so the quartet of student writers didn’t know what to expect.
“We’re in the top nine, we’re in the top 8,” said Erika Grandstaff, one of the team’s four writers. “When it got up to the top five everyone in the group just kind of sat up. And at three we got really excited.”
The team took third place at the 10-team competition in Winston-Salem, and Grandstaff earned the young schools’ first statewide title of any kind by finishing first in the creative writing category.
Teacher John Wood said the group stepped up in the new club of about 40 students, which competes in NCASA events such as Quiz Bowl, Science Olympiad and Arts Showcase. With a nod to the school nickname of the Rams, the group calls itself the “Nerd Herd.”
The Quill team also included Patrick Kirk (argument category), Danet Grabbe (literary analysis) and Siara Lusk (problem/solution). After finishing second among 10 schools in the Eastern regionals in Raleigh (20 schools state-wide entered teams into regional competition) they set off for Atkins Academic and Technology High School in Winston-Salem for last month’s competition
“It was really fun. It was something we had never done before,” Wood said. “We had no clue what we were doing.”
He had relied on Grandstaff, president of the creative writing club, to spot the talent for the competition, which consisted of 90 minutes to respond to a prompt in their respective categories.
“I said to Erika, ‘Go pick me four writers,’” Wood said.
She tabbed Kirk and Grabbe, both seniors who had performed well in Advanced Placement English courses. Lusk, meanwhile, represented a sort of wild card.
“She’s a freshman and she’s writing at the level I was writing at my junior year,” Grandstaff said. “I knew they were going to acquit themselves well.”
A little prompting
Grandstaff was bouncing ideas all around her head as she waited for the start of her writing time. She imagined plot lines and what she could write about if the prompt was this or that.
“And then I would reject them, ‘Oh, that’s silly,’” Grandstaff said.
But when the prompt came out, she just started writing.
“I wrote about a journalist,” she said.
“Unfortunately it was not a very happy journalist.”
The prompt elicited a person being yelled at by a superior, so her mind latched onto a newspaper writer being yelled at by an editor and ran with it. She laid out a story of him wanting to be a travel writer, but his boss brings him down.
Eventually he starts a travel column, and the boss loves it along with everyone else, but he still remains unfulfilled.
“He’s writing how they think,” Grandstaff said.
The writer continues to struggle with a boss treating him as a subordinate and a father who tells him he isn’t good enough while he dreams of writing independently and finding fulfillment in himself.
While the writer in her story may not have found fulfillment, Grandstaff found first place.
Grandstaff hopes to continue to pursue her writing. She intends to major in psychology and English with a minor in creative writing. After that?
“I’m torn right now. I’ll see where my writing goes,” said Grandstaff, who is working to try to get some work published. “I’ll see how my work fares in the coming years. Maybe I’ll get a masters in fine arts or creative writing, or a graduate degree in psychology.”
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland