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Winning Words In Litchfield
By Dawn Caminiti
Litchfield County Times
June 17, 2004
Even at 17, Alexandra Regenbogen knows what it's like to be busy. Her high school schedule is packed with after-school activities and sports. A normal weekend involves a handful of fund-raisers or other events, nights out with friends, a tennis match or swim meet-depending on the season-and a lot of homework.
"I've always been like this, since I was little. I enjoy having a lot to do. I don't like sitting by myself so much," the Litchfield High School junior said. "I think it's normal for a teenager-a lot of the people I hang out with are just as busy."
She may be right, but on top of her busy schedule Ms. Regenbogen is also a blossoming writer and an award-winning poet. She was recently honored as the best young poet in the state at the IMPAC-CSU Awards, a program to recognize talented young writers sponsored by IMPAC, an international productivity firm headed by James B. Irwin Sr., and the Connecticut State University system.
Ms. Regenbogen won $1,000 in a Litchfield County competition, and another $1,000 in the statewide competition, for her poem "A School Bus Etching." It is about a young boy and his reflections while riding on a school bus, and is one of many she wrote during a creative writing class with Dr. Rudolph Sellei at Litchfield high.
The course itself was a bit out of the ordinary for Ms. Regenbogen. As a top student, she is most at home in a science lab or mathematics class. Her favorite subject is probably science and-although she admits she's a bit "squeamish" around blood-she is considering studying medicine in college.
Writing came to her almost by accident. She only took the creative writing class in her sophomore year because it fit in her schedule and she was looking for something different, something less structured than her day-to-day general studies courses. It turned out to be the start of a new chapter for Ms. Regenbogen and inspired her to write more.
"It was the class, it was Doc (Dr. Sellei) ... when you have to write things it just gets you thinking and once you're thinking you realize your thoughts might be valuable on paper, so you start writing things down and realize what you're writing sounds good to your ear and might be good for others to read," Ms. Regenbogen explained.
The class is generally only open to juniors and seniors, but Ms. Regenbogen wrote a letter to Dr. Sellei, and he admitted her.
"I was nervous about it, but it turned out fine," Ms. Regenbogen noted.
And Dr. Sellei said her sophomore status was never a problem.
"She was a sophomore among juniors and seniors, but her work was so exceptional that that just never came up. She's a young woman with a mature mind," he said.
The creative writing class was the first one in which Ms. Regenbogen did a lot of writing on her own. It focused on short stories, plays and poetry rather than the analytical essays about literature she was used to crafting for her English classes. Each week, the students were required to write three poems for the class, and it was the poetry aspect of class that struck a chord for Ms. Regenbogen.
"I wouldn't say my short stories are anything special, but I enjoy writing poetry. You don't need a lot of training for it, it's just a mindset," she said.
Ms. Regenbogen played around with different types of poems before she found one that worked well for her, and she describes her poems as her "thoughts on paper."
"My poems are mostly about things and people I know. They are fairly straightforward. They're not esoteric or difficult to understand, at least I don't think so," she explained.
The time she spends on each of her poems varies. Some come quickly to her, while others require more work and revisions. During her experience with IMPAC, she attended a workshop about revision methods, but she said she does not like to do a lot of rewriting on her poems.
"I read it over in my head, if it sounds good I'll leave it, if it doesn't I'll change it," she explained.
Dr. Sellei was impressed with Ms. Regenbogen's writing because of her strong vocabulary and faultless sentence structure, which meant that he never had to correct her writing for technical problems.
"She was an exceptional student," he said. "To say that she's creative is an understatement. She is brimming with ideas and she also knows how to realize the ideas, and that's hard work, and she's willing to put in the kind of work that her ideas require. Some kids have great ideas, but they don't want to work with them."
Because of the creative writing class, Ms. Regenbogen has a collection of poems, though she chose her winning poem about the boy on the school bus from among only seven or eight that she considered worthy of submitting to the IMPAC awards.
"I think of all the poems I wrote, it had the most continuity," she said. "I understood what I was writing about, it came to me and worked. I thought it worked well."
This is the second year in which Ms. Regenbogen submitted a poem to IMPAC. Last year, she was a finalist, but did not win at the county or state levels. Her poem, "Practiced Amazing Grace," was about a woman sculpting on a clay wheel and a man conducting a high school band.
Ms. Regenbogen said she plans to continue writing and wants to submit another entry to IMPAC next year. If it's possible-and she's already hesitant because her schedule is full-she would also like to do an independent study and continue working on her writing in school as a senior next year.
"I can't wait to take creative writing classes in college. I don't know how much more I can do here, but I will continue on my own," she said.
Ms. Regenbogen grew up in Litchfield with her father, Howard, a gastroenterologist, and her mother, Jocelyn, a former doctor who plans to be a math teacher. She also has a younger sister, Samantha, who is a freshman in high school. Her love for writing and literature may have come from her father, who studied English as a pre-med student in college.
Writing poetry is just one of the many things in which Ms. Regenbogen excels. The young renaissance woman is the president of her junior class, a member of the Environthon team and a leader on the school's debate team. She is also on the school's tennis and swim teams.
"I'm a busy person. I try to balance everything I'm doing with school, extracurricular activities, friends and family," she said. "But I enjoy all I do, I'm not forcing myself to do it. I don't have a problem spending a lot of time doing it all."
To unwind, Ms. Regenbogen spends time outside or shopping with her friends. She also enjoys reading and her favorite author is John Irving. She is currently re-reading his novel "Cider House Rules," which is her favorite book.
Even once school is over, Ms. Regenbogen will keep busy. She is going to a medical conference in Boston this summer to help determine whether a medical profession is something she would like to pursue in college. She is also attending a national Environthon competition in August and will tour the northwestern states to visit colleges with her father. She's narrowed her search down to 11 schools that are in rural areas with small to mid-size student populations.
"Despite what people say about this town, I like Litchfield. I'm just looking for something with more opportunities than Litchfield, but I don't want the culture shock where I would be lost. A small rural area would probably best fit at this point in my life," she explained.
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