A former writing teacher at London Middle School in Wheeling took her own advice and wound up earning her first place in the Daily Herald Community Art & Writing Contest.
This was the fourth time Paula Matzek of Mount Prospect won a prize in the prose division of the contest, which coincides with Northwest Suburban High School District 214's monthlong celebration of the arts.
Her short story "German Lessons" reflected Matzek's trip last summer to Germany and Austria; consequently, it was filled with lots of the vivid imagery she had seen.
"I always told my students to write from their own experience and fill it with lots of detail," Matzek said.
JoAnne Rooney of Arlington Heights placed second in the prose category with her short story "Goodnight." The story tells of a 6-year-old girl coming to terms with a new mother and of the song she sang every night to the child that slowly won her over.
Like Matzek, Rooney belongs to an adult writing group, which helps critique and enhance her work. The former educator and writer for an education association won the writing contest several years ago and she has continued to write ever since.
"I have all this writing stored in my computer but never knew what to do with it," Rooney said. "This contest gives us a forum for our work."
Third-place winner Dennis Depcik of Buffalo Grove, never entered a writing contest before, but his piece "A Wanted Death," about accompanying his wife as she slowly died, drew the attention of the judges with its honesty and emotion.
"We used to write to one another when I was in the service, but she was just the kid sister of a friend of mine," Depcik said. "She went from being an insignificant kid sister to the most important person in my life."
Elk Grove High School students won the visual art portion of the contest, including Haley Gorski for her piece "White Rotary"; Emma Pierce for her watercolor "Sleep"; and Paris Hunsaker for her work "Untitled."
"I like to involve mythology and realism -- and pack as much detail as I can in small pieces," said Pierce of Des Plaines, a senior who intends to pursue art in college. "That's why my work is mostly small."
Poetry winners included Kristen Franke, who won first place for her poem, "Grief"; Borislav Strahilov took second place for his poem, "Ford"; and Sarah Caprio placed third for her poem titled "The Blanket."
In all, more than 100 entries were submitted to the community art and writing contest, officials said.
Former Rolling Meadows High School English teacher Bill Leece returned to judge the prose pieces, and he said that he looks for pieces rich in detail that make an emotional connection with the reader.
"I never know whether it's been written by a high school student or an adult," Leece said, "and that's what makes it so delightful."