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Oceanside High School author receives national recognition

By Michael McGuire | Mar 25, 2021
Alexa Barstow

Thomaston — A published author at age 17 — not very many teens can make that claim. But that is just what Alexa Barstow became last August when a collection of her short stories, “Truth Be Cold,” was published. Now, Barstow has received national accolades for her writing; gold medals in the 2021 Scholastic Awards designating her writing as among “the most outstanding works in the nation.”

Barstow won three awards in the short story category for the regional round: a silver key for her story “Behind Your Eyes,” a gold key for her story “Stage Red,” and an American Voices nomination (for the national awards) for “Stage Red.” In the national awards, “Stage Red” received a national gold medal, defined by Scholastic as awarded to “the most outstanding works in the nation.” She was also awarded the American Voices medal, which is given to only one student from each region, chosen from the pool of five applicants nominated in the regional round. Now in its 98th year, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the nation's longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for young artists and writers.

A senior at Oceanside High School and class Salutatorian, Barstow can now reflect on the path she has traveled from “loving to write,” to becoming involved with “The Telling Room” at Skidompha Library in Damariscotta, to applying for and being accepted in The Telling Room’s Young Emerging Authors program “Write On!” at age 15, and eventually having a collection of her stories published for all to read.

Deciding to apply for the "YEA" program, as it is affectionately known, began a lengthy process that would force Barstow to, among other things, start completing writings that she had begun but always set aside. Barstow sat down with Marjolaine Whittlesey, “the first Telling Room teacher I ever met who helped me with my application in its barest stages,” Barstow said. “She is also the person to whom my book is dedicated."

“I only had three starts at that time,” said Barstow, referring to the beginning of three short stories but no completed stories. In fact, Barstow points out that up until the publication of her book, she had never completed any “book start.” In her application to the program, Barstow had to answer the question, “Why is this book important to be done now?” And she had to come up with a 10-page excerpt of what would be her book. A total of “12 pages to sell myself,” she chuckled. And she had a deadline.

Her work with Kathryn Williams, YEA Program Leader at the Telling Room and the primary teacher Barstow worked with from October 2019 to August 2020, “Helped me prove to myself that I can do this,” said Barstow.

The day in October 2019 when Barstow found out that she had been accepted into the YEA program, she was sitting in an English class at Oceanside being taught by Mr. Caleb Lawrence. She happened to check her email, saw the message and had to leave the room, rushing down the hall to teacher Jennifer Cross’ small room in the library to share the news with her. Barstow admits she caused quite a stir as a result of her excitement.

From the time Barstow began in the program in October 2019, she had until April 2020 to complete her book. At first she was traveling to Portland every Tuesday, relying on her father for transport. “But I still had to attend my high school classes and do all my homework,” she said.

In January 2020, she met her mentor, Melissa Coleman, a New York Times best-selling author. The two met via FaceTime for up to two hours at a time. “She helped with all the big edits,” Barstow said, noting she had a goal of keeping each short story to 3,000 words.

How did it feel to have someone editing her work? Providing constructive criticism?

“I was hesitant," Barstow admitted, “but realized I was working with professionals,” adding that her mentor and editors made it clear their goal was to help her succeed.

Then came the COVID-19 pandemic that struck last March.

Face-to-face involvement with people from the Young Emerging Writers program came to a halt. But Barstow still had an April deadline to complete her book.

“You learn a lot about yourself when writing alone in your room during a pandemic,” Barstow said. “I actually saw it as a great opportunity for growth.”

Barstow met her deadlines, the final edits were made, and her book was sent to the publisher. “Truth Be Cold” consists of 16 short stories dealing with ghosts, the supernatural, and “recognizing the fear and truth in our lives,” said Barstow. Unfortunately, the publishing launch and celebration had to be held via Zoom.

The pandemic has made it difficult to promote her book but Barstow is hopeful she will soon be able to schedule some public readings locally and get the book into local bookstores. At present it can be found at the Printin Bookstore in Portland or ordered at tellingroombooks.com.

The publisher’s comments on the back of the cover explain that, “We all have ghosts, specters of our past we’re too afraid to confront. The young characters in these 16 stories, which blur the lines between the supernatural and the real, face their phantoms. Haunting but hopeful, 'Truth Be Cold' is a debut collection about fear in its many forms and the liberating truth to be found within it.”

Barstow will be attending Bryn Mawr College in September and plans to study Political Science and History. She hopes to one day become a lawyer. More writing in her future? Barstow notes that lawyers do a lot of writing and, as she previously noted, she has a number of stories she has started but still never finished.

"Truth Be Cold" is published by The Telling Room, 225 Commercial St., Suite 201, Portland, ME 04101.Visit tellingroom.org for more information.

 

 

 

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Comments (1)
Posted by: Joanne Kenney | Mar 25, 2021 17:27

Congratulations to a remarkable young woman with a very bright future!



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