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Letters About Literature

What is Letters About Literature? LAL is a writing contest encouraging students in grades 4–12 to write a personal letter to an author (living or dead) of a fiction or nonfiction book, a short story, poem, essay, or speech (sorry, no song lyrics) you have read and about which you have strong feelings. A book can take readers to places of new understanding and can change your world, how you view it, and how you view yourself.

Your letter should explore these feelings and reflect why you reacted the way you did during or after reading. It's a great way to get young people to think critically about something they're reading right now or something they've already read. How did an author's work change your view of the world or yourself? Recommended letter lengths: Entries for Level 1: 100-500 words; Level 2: 300-1,000 words; Level 3: 600-1,500 words. Click here for the 2017 LAL Guidelines.

Letters About Literature satisfies Tennessee English/Language Arts Curriculum and Common Core Standards. If you'd like more information on ways you can adapt this program to Common Core Standards for Writing, download this teacher's guide from the national Letters About Literature office. 

Prizes: Humanities Tennessee has its own panel of judges who select the top entries in the state. State Winners at each level will receive a cash award from Humanities Tennessee (1st at each level receives $100 and advances to the national judging, 2nd place receives $50, and 3rd place receives $25) and a certificate. The 1st place winner on Level 3 will also be awarded a full scholarship to attend the TN Young Writers' Workshop in 2017.

National Prizes: First place winners advance to the national level judging. A panel of national judges for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress will select one National Winner per competition level to receive a $1,000 cash award. The judges will also select one National Honor per competition level to receive a $200 cash award.                 

If you have questions about this year's LAL contest, contact langston@humanitiestennessee.org or call 615.770.0006 x8019. The program is presented by Humanities Tennessee, home of the Tennessee Center for the Book in affiliation with the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.

2016 LAL State Winners:

Level 1 (4th-6th grades)

Level 2 (7th-8th grades)

Level 3 (9th-12th grades)

Past National Letters About Literature winners from Tennessee

  • 2010: Siori Koerner for her letter to J.D. Salinger about Catcher in the Rye. Siori earned Christiana Middle School in Christiana a $10,000 reading grant from Target.
  • 2010: Malli Swamy won a National Honorable Mention for her letter to Paolo Coelho about The Alchemist. Malli earned White Station High School in Memphis a $1,000 reading grant.
  • 2009: Caroline Hoskins for her letter to Cynthia Lord about Rules. Caroline earned St. Mary's Episcopal School in Memphis a $10,000 reading grant.
  • 2008: Ayesha Usmani for her letter to Amy Tan about The Joy Luck Club. Ayesha earned White Station High School in Memphis a $10,000 reading grant.
  • 2006: Martha Park for her letter to J.D. Salinger about Catcher in the Rye. Martha was invited to read her letter at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.
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LAL Teaching Booklet 2014-2015.pdf1.16 MB
LAL17-Guidelines.pdf1.94 MB