“A River Runs Through It…” Essay Contest Preludes Book Festival

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(From left to right) Lee High School Principal Rick Canales, San Antonio Public Library Foundation President Tracey Ramsey Bennett, San Antonio Book Festival winner and NESAninth grader Rhyanne Saul, the Saul family (younger brother, mother, and father) and Texas Cavaliers Publicity Chairman Clint Hennessey. Photo courtesy of SABF.

(From left to right) Lee High School Principal Rick Canales, San Antonio Public Library Foundation President Tracey Ramsey Bennett, San Antonio Book Festival winner and NESAninth grader Rhyanne Saul, the Saul family (younger brother, mother, and father) and Texas Cavaliers Publicity Chairman Clint Hennessey. Photo courtesy of SABF.

 

UPDATE: The San Antonio Book Festival announced its 2nd annual author line up featuring more than 80 acclaimed national and regional authors. Download the full list  by clicking here

A "Literary Death Match" has also been added to the schedule, described as a humorous "mix of 'Def Jam Poetry' and 'American Idol.'" Visit SAPLF.org/festival for more information.

sa-book-festival-logo-300x296The annual San Antonio Book Festival (SABF) hosted a fiction writing contest for high school students in anticipation of the festival's second year and the results are in: San Antonio youth know how to tell a story. (Read the two winning essays below story.)

“There are many hidden talents in the San Antonio community,” stated Richard A. Sparr, Jr., Texas Cavaliers River Parade marshall in a press release announcing the contest winners. “It’s the organization’s goal to tap the city’s hidden talents. One of those ways is through our future leaders, our students.”

The Texas Cavaliers underwrote the contest which gives the winning authors a chance to be featured on the SABF website and be part of the festival, alongside more than 70 national and regional authors on April 5. The essays were based on the theme "A River Runs Through It..." and were reviewed by local educators, authors and community leaders.

“We are thrilled to be able to encourage and reward young authors of creative writing.  And, by the number of entries that were submitted for our first year, it is clear that fiction writing is alive and well in San Antonio,” stated Katy Flato, San Antonio Book Festival director. “(The winners) will get to meet other authors, who maybe also got their start in writing by entering a contest.”

The first place winner in the 9-10th grade category was Rhyanne Saul, a ninth grader at North East School of the Arts (NESA). The 11-12th grade category winner was Jessica Redmon, an eleventh grader at Sam Houston High School.

Both students were surprised by a visit from a Texas Cavalier and Tracy Bennet, president of The San Antonio Public Library Foundation to their respective English and creative writing classes – with display checks for $150 for each in tow. Their classrooms received $500 as well.

 

(From left to right) San Antonio Book Festival winner and eleventh grader Jessica Redmon, Sam Houston High School Principal Darnell Maurice White, San Antonio Public Library Foundation President Tracey Ramsey Bennett and Texas Cavaliers Publicity Chairman Clint Hennessey. Photo courtesy of SABF.

(From left to right) San Antonio Book Festival winner and eleventh grader Jessica Redmon, Sam Houston High School Principal Darnell Maurice White, San Antonio Public Library Foundation President Tracey Ramsey Bennett and Texas Cavaliers Publicity Chairman Clint Hennessey. Photo courtesy of SABF.

Second place winners in each category receive $100, third place receives $75. All student winners will be awarded their cash prizes from King Antonio during the festival.

A full list of finalists can be found at SAPLF.org.

The San Antonio Book Festival aims to "connect writers and readers in a celebration of ideas, books, libraries and literary culture."

The free, public, all-day event on Saturday takes over the Central Library and Southwest School of Art and surrounding street with panel discussions, book signings, a literary marketplace, interactive and educational activities, recipe demonstrations, food trucks, live music and even the Geek Bus will stop by with free wi-fi.

Read about last year's festival here: "Texas Book Festival/San Antonio Edition Takes Downtown by Surprise."

An official announcement of the book list will be made this morning, stay tuned to The Rivard Report throughout February and March for interviews with authors and reviews of featured books. Interested in joining in? Contact iris@rivardreport.com.

The following are the winning essays, which have been fine-tuned by the authors in anticipation of publication.

Thirty Days of Butterflies by Jessica Redmon

Jessica Redmon

Jessica Redmon

Kendra arrived late Thursday night. I waited up in my room for my grandma and her boyfriend, Bill, to come home from the airport. I was sitting on the floor, listening to the roar of a jet as it passed over the house. Then the front door opened, and I could hear Grandma chatting happily to my sister.

I didn’t move, listened. Finally, Kendra excused herself and climbed up the stairs, dragging her suitcase behind her. My room is directly at the top of the stairs so I could see her as she came up. Our eyes locked and she gave me a sleepy smile.

Before I could utter a proper hello, I heard my grandma shout from below, “Get Jada to get your other bag.” A beat later she added, “Her lazy butt.”

Has it begun? I thought. I didn’t say anything, bolted down the stairs and swooped up Kendra’s black duffel bag before wheeling around and shooting back up the steps. When I reached the top I dropped the bag on the floor.

It was Kendra’s first time seeing me in almost a year, and I didn’t know how I would explain that I was not the Jada she left behind. But Kendra didn’t say anything. Instead we simply observed each other. Her hair was twisted into medium-length braids. Kendra bulked out, her chin square and her waist thick. To say the Military Academy transformed her would be a vast understatement. Kendra had transcended.

She’s alive and she’s beautiful.

“Sister,” I said, smiling. It’s only an inch of a real smile.

Her eyes crinkled. “Sister.”

We met and I wrapped my arms around her, my hands making fists in the small of her back, her arms squeezing tightly around my shoulders. We didn’t speak. At that moment, words would have ruined us. I was terribly unhappy, but Kendra was the relief.

She pulled away after a minute, smiled then went downstairs.

It was while Kendra and I were sitting on the porch that I realized I’d slipped beneath the paradigm. My summer, just about to burst with expectations, had alas deflated into something more befitting of reality.

I looked down at my feet and frowned in concentration. There. I’d done it. I didn’t think about anything for two whole seconds. For two whole seconds I was myself.

Kendra was on her iPhone. She’d been in the city for twenty-one days and it was only her fifth or sixth time being at home. Yet she hadn’t said a word since we sat outside. I thought, I wish she’d get off her phone and look at me.

I was angry. But I was trying my best not to be.

Kendra could only afford to come home three times a year, and I wanted to appreciate what little time I could scrape up with her. I was trying not to feel bitter and depressed, aggravated and empty. I was trying not to think.

So instead, I tried to speak. “I feel…”

She wore a small smile on her face, her thumb swiping away at the screen.

“I feel…I don’t know. I feel like I can’t be myself.”

“Hmm… Why not?” She didn’t even look up.

“I don’t know. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere.” I ripped a blade of grass from its root. “I’m making myself miserable and I know it.”

Kendra didn’t respond. After all, why should she deal with my problems? Why did I always think Kendra would make me better? That moment I decided to grow up. I was looking to Kendra to pull me out of my own darkness; I wanted her to save me. But when I’d realized she couldn’t, I’d gotten angry.

I breathed in deeply, sighed. After a beat I heard myself say, “Sadness, do not cross the river, for your autumn heart will sink…drowning in longing.” I grabbed a fistful of grass and dirt and yanked it from the ground.

Later that day, Kendra unbraided her hair. I combed my fingers through the puffs of dark brown cotton atop her head. She was on her phone.

“You look like an African slave child.” I joked. “I’m going call you Kenta.”

“What time does your flight leave?” Grandma asked.

Never looking up, Kendra said, “At six-twenty-five.”

Without thinking, I said. “So that means we have to get up early.”

“What?” Grandma was looking at me, annoyed.

“I said we have to get up—“

“You mean me, Bill, and Kendra have to get up early.”

“I can’t go to the airport?” So it had begun.

“No. I have plans Sunday and you’re not going to mess that up.” I stared at her, blankly.

“No! I never do anything for me. Sunday is MY day and I’m not driving all the way back here to drop you off. No! If Bill wants to take you, fine, but he’s not going to.” And clearly, that was that.

I did an about face and went to my room.

I wanted one day of Kendra’s indivertible attention, and finally got it. Sort of. Lea was there too, but that was fine. We caught the bus downtown together. I missed saying ‘we’; I missed being the one of two. When there were two, the one was not alone. When the one was alone, she realized she didn’t like herself very much.

The two plus Lea saw a movie for the first time in six months. All three had a really great time.

Because we caught the late line ups, we had to walk three blocks to our house after we exited the bus. It was chilly out, the streets were empty. I was a jolly thing, walking on my tip toes (something I usually only did at home) beside my sister, who was pleasantly quiet.

It was the night before she was to leave, and I felt that if I didn’t tell her now, I would never be able to find comfort in Kendra again.

I looked down at my feet as we walked. “Kendra, you think I’m a good writer?”

“Yeah,”

“You think I could change the world?”

“Sure.”

I nodded. When she said that, it was like I could breathe for the first time in years. “So I’m supposed to write a memoir for school.”

“I think I’m going to write about us.”

“Us?”

I frowned. That was the thing with words. I could write them down, I just couldn’t say them.

“You and I, in this moment. I’m trying it one day at a time. I’m trying this new form of forgiveness.”

As if she didn’t know, she asked, “What are you trying to forgive?”

I told her, “Life.”

“Life.” She repeated softly.

Finally. We walked home and when I felt like it, I filled the silence with introspective mind babble.

Most of the night we packed away what she’d take with her to New York and what she’d leave behind. When there was nothing left to pack or shut away, we napped. It was early Sunday morning when I opened my eyes again, to see my sister folding her blankets.

“You don’t have to fold those up.” My grandma told her, standing in the doorway in her bathrobe. For a moment I thought she would make me get my lazy butt up and fold them for her.

Rather, she turned to me. “We leave at four-thirty. So get ready.”

I’ve never like airports. Even at five-something in the morning the lines were long. Bill was always awkwardly aloof, Grandma was always crying. I hadn’t gotten enough sleep to deal with this kind of thing. But for a blessed change, I couldn’t think. My thoughts were butterflies flittering on the wind.

Kendra was leaving again. I didn’t know when I would stop feeling like I’d lost a lung. I told myself, she’s alive and she’s beautiful.

She’s alive and she’s beautiful.

“I’m going to cry.” My grandma whimpered. I felt pretty sorry for her. I watched Bill put his arm around her and pull her against his chest. Something about that resonated within me, and suddenly, I wasn’t angry anymore. I could feel a giant revelation forming in the back of my mind, the way tunnel clouds form before a tornado, but I was too tired to ponder on it. So I let it go, and that was on the wind too.

We stood in front of the security line and passed Kendra back and forth for a round of hugs. That was as far as we could go, and I was secretly glad. This summer needed to be over, and I needed some sleep. She reached the front and checked in, then turned and waved once more.

“Look there she is.” Bill said. He looked down at Grandma, nuzzled in his chest. “Did you see?”

She shook her head. “No.”

But I saw. I smiled. I saw her first.

Grandma took my hand, just like that. She squeezed it tight, and didn’t let go.

 

"Going Down" by Rhyanne Saul

Rhyanne Saul

Rhyanne Saul

Clothed in a white and silver dress, Jo took a quick spin and admired her reflection in the mirror. Elizabeth, also dressed in light hues, fussed and fidgeted over her own attire. The two girls contained endless amounts of nervous energy, each releasing spurts in pointless conversations, flimsy hand motions, and anxious pacing. Their father was no better. Worse, even.

“Stop tugging,” Elizabeth gently scolded, standing on her tiptoes to loosen her father’s silver tie. “It’s going to wrinkle.” Her father gave a tight-lipped smile and nodded, but he jerked and pulled at his tie nonetheless.

The family departed from the house and merged onto the sidewalk, joining the growing white-clothed masses. The other townsfolk poured from the tightly packed complexes, fusing into the white tidal wave of people. Everyone shuffled forward in silence, hushing the excited young children with pinches and soft thumps on the mouth. It took two hours for the swarm of people to arrive at the bog. The wood creaked beneath the pounding of feet; the noises echoed throughout the stillness.

Before the celebration and chatter began, each family would pay their respects to the chief: a slight tip of the head or a “hello” would suffice. The majority of the people migrated towards the buffet table, piled high with the host’s favorites. In this case, it was crab.

The host sat on a small mat in the middle of the bog, enjoying the scenery before him. Men and women engaged him in small talk, and he was all too eager to oblige. After a moment or two, the people would shuffle away, leaving him smiling on his own secluded island.

Jo timidly wandered around the boardwalk, feeling a bit awkward, shy, and out of place amongst the celebrating people. She spotted Allen and some other friends at the buffet table, eating roaches and bat wings. She’d better go someplace else.

“Grandpa?” Jo approached her grandfather, raising her voice so it could reach him on his mat.

“Jo-Jo!” he said, opening his arms in a greeting. She wanted to jump to him; she wanted that hug. But physical contact was prohibited on the day of the Celebration, which was stupid in her opinion. Not that anybody cared, but it was.

“How are you, my little sprite?” Grandpa asked.

“I’m good. How are you, Granddaddy?”

“Why, my dear, I am on fire!” He shook with excitement. He was so happy.

“Where’s your box?”

The man gasped and frantically looked around his mat.

“Oh dear,” he muttered. “I think I’ve left it someplace. What someplace could I have left it?” He wrinkled his brow in deep concentration.

“Grandpa?” Elizabeth walked to the edge of the planks, holding a small red box. “You left this on your dresser. I assumed you would want to read these.”

“Oh, thank you, fairy! Send it over, will you, my dear?”

Elizabeth placed the box inside of a small basket, and gave a great push. The basket rocked back and forth, floating towards Grandfather’s outstretched hands.

“Hee hee,” Grandfather giggled, unclasping the lock. “Jo-Jo, when was the memory day?”

“October eighteenth. You missed it. You were visiting Grandmamma.”

“Oh yes. Thank you, my dear. I remember now. But after today little lady, you will have to visit the both of us for me. I will see her soon enough!”

He flipped open the lid and paper poured out from inside of the box. The ink still held its scent. Unfolding one of the smaller sheets, he began to read. Then he folded the paper up exactly the way he found it, and picked up another one. Jo watched him as he read memory after memory, smiling, laughing, nodding, and crying. A man with a receding hairline approached the sides of the boardwalk.

“Henry!” the man shouted. Grandfather looked up and smiled upon recognizing an old friend. “What did you think of my memory? There were so many to choose from, and at first, I didn’t know which to pick!”

Grandfather laughed merrily. “Charles, you just happened to pick my favorite one! Thank you!”

The celebration went on like that for the rest of the day. The people would come and go as they pleased: gossiping, eating, singing, dancing, and telling stories about the host.  Jo stayed faithfully with her Grandfather, talking, playing games, and sending him buckets of crab whenever he asked.

“Granddaddy,” Jo asked. “Aren’t your legs tired?”

“Oh yes, very much so. But the mat is so small, and I am so big, so there really is nowhere to stretch them.” He wiggled his toes at Jo, earning a small, sad smile.

“Oh dear,” Grandfather said, lowering his feet. “Jo-Jo, why aren’t you happy? Go on; celebrate with your friends. Enjoy yourself, little sprite!”

“Why do you want to go down so early? You haven’t even reached your seventieth year yet.”

“Oh dear,” Grandfather sighed, leaning towards her. “As you know, I was given the option to go down before the set date, and I took it.”

“But why?”

“Because I’m ready.”

“But you have so much to live for! You have so much time left! What about Lizzy and me?” Jo pressed on. “And Dad?”

“What about Grandmamma?” Grandfather softly spoke, so low that Jo had to lean halfway into the bog to hear correctly. “It’s been eleven years since I last saw her, and I’m ready to see her again. So don’t cry now, you hear? Let’s enjoy our last few hours. Make them last.”

The duo had drawn a few people’s unwanted attention, and Jo’s ears began to burn in embarrassment. Grandfather forced a bright smile, and Jo knew she needed to follow suit.

“Where is your Daddy? Where’s Jason?”

“He’s over there with the chief,” Jo pointed toward the two in the center of the boardwalk. Her father was avoiding Grandfather at all costs. “He’s not going to come over here, is he?”

“No, my dear. I think he might break if he does.”

“You’ve made it hard on him.”

“No,” Grandfather corrected her. “He’s made it hard on himself.”

A trumpet sounded, and the crowd immediately hushed. Following the ritual, they gathered at the center of the boardwalk, facing Grandfather and his little mat surrounded by the muddy bog. All eyes were on the chief.

“My good people,” he began, just as he’s always done. “Henry Jackson is ready to go down.”

Whoops, hollers, and “Amens” were chorused throughout the mass of people.

“My good people,” he repeated. “Henry Jackson is ready to move on to another life, a better life. His body may go down, but his spirit will rise up!”

“Amen, c’mon!” the people shouted.

“Henry Jackson,” the chief shouted, throwing his hands up towards the heavens, “Is ready to go down! And we won’t deny him that desire!”

“No, sir! No, we won’t!” The crowd bellowed.

“Henry Jackson?!” The chief shouted, whirling on Grandfather. “Are you ready to go down? Are you ready to depart from this earth and go to the better life above?”

“I am ready to go down!” Grandfather shouted back.

“Then, my dear boy,” The chief said, “Go down!”

And dragging his lead ball that was chained to his frail leg, Henry Jackson went down. He jumped from the mat down into the filth and mud below, with a sickening squelch.

Over the shouts, over the screaming, over Jo’s sobbing and her father’s weeping, the chief roared, “HENRY JACKSON HAS GONE DOWN!”

 

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