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Local Teen Writes Her Way To Emerald Isle
By  Megan Bard, Day Staff Writer
July 6, 2004

Montville — Two weeks shy of the end of her sophomore year, 17-year-old Emily Dykes got the surprise of her life.

The two-page narrative she had written during a study hall and later refined for her fiction class — the same story she barely likes — was given the highest honor available to a young writer in Connecticut. And then she got to go to Ireland to represent America as one of its top young writers.

“I was very surprised to hear I'd won and then again to hear I was going to Ireland. I expected maybe I'd get into the semi-finals but no further,” she said last week. “I guess it was a good story. It's just not what I normally do.”

Dykes, who favors writing novels and poetry, captured the IMPAC-Connecticut University System Young Writers prose award for her short story “The King” at the organization's June 4 annual dinner at the Litchfield Inn.

“The award lets the kids know that they are valued,” said Katherine Dykes, Emily's mother. “She's humble and doesn't expect a lot. Seeing her get the award felt so good and so right.”

In addition to receiving a $1,000 award, Dykes was invited to Ireland, where the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award is presented to the author of what is judged as the best published work worldwide for the year.

In the mid-1990s, James B. Irwin Sr., owner of Improved Management Productivity and Control, created the young writers award and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

The international award, worth $121,700 [100,000 Euros] this year, was presented to Tahar Ben Jelloun, a Moroccan exile residing in France, for his book “This Blinding Absence of Light.” It is a fictional account of a man held in a Moroccan prison.

“A writer has a very unique position. ... A writer has the ability to show the whole world what he or she thinks is important and maybe even have an impact,” Dykes said.

When she was 8, Dykes received a create-your-own book set, complete with bound books with empty pages and a place to put her picture as the author inside the back cover. But it wasn't until sixth grade that she realized she had a gift for writing. She had finished reading the Belgariad/Malloreon fantasy series by David Eddings and was inspired to write her own fantasy novel. Two years later she finished her book “The Storm” and hated it.

“It's just a bad novel,” she said Wednesday. “It's full of holes, weird and complicated. Maybe I'll rewrite it. ... It will take a lot of work.”

Dykes is possibly be her worst critic. “The King” is a 12-page story that evolved from those first two pages. It carries the reader into a world where a kingdom wrought with war has a chance for peace because of one woman's inner strength, is another of her works that leaves her unsatisfied.

“I'm not a short story writer,” she said. “They annoy me. It all goes too quickly. I don't get the chance to develop it the way I want.”

The judges disagreed.

Judge Terese Karmel, the features editor at The Willimantic Chronicle newspaper, described Dyke's story as “humorous, with an important politic but not too didactic that it turned off the reader.”

Judge Rand Richards Cooper, a book author and magazine writer, said Dykes demonstrated precision and control of the English language. He described “The King” as a combination of poetry and precision that is quietly feminist.

While she still doesn't consider “The King” her best work, the story showed Dykes that her dreams might come true.

“I have always had a dream that I would actually be a writer and a novelist, but I never thought that it could come true until I got $2,000,” she said referring to the money given as the county and state finalist.

“What made me realize how important writing is when speakers in Dublin kept saying ‘tyrants hate writers because they tell the world what's happening,'” she said.

Alexandra Regenbogen, of Litchfield, took the top honors in the poetry category of the young writers' competition for her piece “A School Bus Etching.” Both Dykes' and Regenbogen's works might be published in the Connecticut Review, a literary journal of the state university system.

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