Writers Honored For Pandemic-Era Essays
Friends of Newtown Seniors (FONS) celebrated the culmination of its newest project on June 5, when six local writers were formally honored. The winning essays ranged from humorous and lighthearted to introspective and even thankful for what had been experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Earlier this year FONS, working with Newtown Senior Center and C.H. Booth Library, invited residents who were at least age 55 to submit essays of 500 words or less that responded to questions concerning the pandemic, lessons learned during the past year-plus, life changes, and other ideas.
While the essays will be combined into a compilation for future publication, those who shared their written thoughts were also competing for cash prizes.
On June 5, FONS hosted a recognition ceremony for winners Anita Holtz, Kathryn Mayer, Lisa Peterson, and Brenda Zamary and honorable mention honorees Marianne Muskus and JoAnne Noonan.
The event took place at C.H. Booth Library. Sixteen people assembled outdoors, taking advantage of a shade canopy over the library’s patio.
FONS founder and President John Boccuzzi, Sr, welcomed the attendees, who included Booth Library Assistant Director Jennifer Nash, who helped judge the entries; Kate Katcher, a local performer, writer, and producer who served as the lead judge; John Voket, an associate editor of this newspaper and one of the essay judges; Newtown Human Services and Senior Center Director Natalie Jackson; and FONS Vice President Curt Symes, who served as the event emcee. Newtown Bee Editor Nancy Crevier, also a judge, and Library Director Doug Lord were unable to attend, due to conflicts. Members of the FONS Board of Directors and spouses of a few of the afternoon’s honorees also attended.
Nash was among the first to speak, and she applauded the afternoon’s honorees.
“It was hard to narrow down the works,” she said. “We had a lot of good entries. Congratulations to all of you.”
Katcher explained that the writing competition grew out of a planned 2020 writing workshop that was canceled during the worst of the pandemic. She credited Boccuzzi with adapting their plans.
“John came up with this brilliant idea, and coordinated this contest,” she said. “The silver lining of the pandemic was that we were able to shift the way we looked at this project.”
The resulting works were “wonderful,” she added. “It’s terrific that you were all on the same page.”
Jackson told those assembled that she “can’t imagine how hard it is to write about yourselves,” and that she was looking forward to hearing the essays. Each winner on Saturday had been invited to read their work.
While five of the women did offer readings, Muskus deferred to Boccuzzi to read her entry, called “The Three As.” JoAnn Noonan, the author of “Pand-ENEMA,” followed.
Peterson and Zamary each prefaced their readings by asking for forgiveness and patience if they had trouble while reading their very personal writings.
“This is an essay about how my horse got me through the pandemic,” Peterson said of “The Equine Escape Into Isolation.” Her horse, she then added, died this past March.
Zamary’s work, “At Our Class Reunion,” shared the challenges of losing her husband of 57 years during the isolation of the pandemic.
Holtz’s work was an opposing force, with the longtime English teacher sharing “I’m Glad I’m Old.”
The readings drew laughter, and plenty of nods, as those seated on the patio recognized themselves in what the writers shared.
Kate Mayer, in fact, noted before reading “Ode To A Pandemic” that she felt like she and others connected through their writing.
“Hearing all your words,” she said, “I realize we really were all together, while we were all apart. Thank you for sharing your words.”
Certificates were presented to Muskus and Noonan.
Holtz, Mayer, Peterson, and Zamary received cash prizes of $50 each. The prizes were funded by a grant from Connecticut Office of the Arts, within the Department of Economic and Community Development, Boccuzzi said.
Works received during the recent call for entries will eventually be published under the title “Looking To The Future with 2020 Hindsight,” Boccuzzi also noted on Saturday. The collection will be illustrated with photos of mosaic art that will be created by FONS and installed at the senior center.
Associate Editor Shannon Hicks can be reached at email@example.com.