Editor's note: Each year the Lawrence Arts Center and The Raven Bookstore sponsor the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award competition to recognized excellence and encourage achievement of new and emerging writers in Douglas County.
Two awards of $500 each are given one in poetry and one in fiction.
Alice Ann White remembers the day she started writing poetry.
She was in fourth grade at Trailwood Elementary School in Overland Park. The teacher told the students they had to start keeping a daily journal. The teacher would give them ideas to write about Monday through Thursday, but on Friday they could write whatever they wanted.
"I began writing poems," said White, 21, a Kansas University student who is the winner of this year's Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award for poetry. "From fourth grade to 12th grade, they were very personal. I used it as something to help me deal with (what was going on in my life). It was all in verse or rhyme. Now I mainly write free verse."
Over the years, White has written more than 500 poems, a collection she calls "the diary of my life." But it wasn't until last spring that she decided she wanted to make a career of writing. Until then, she was a political science major.
"Last spring I lived in (Washington), D.C., and did an internship. I realized I didn't want to do that," she said, explaining that the "Beltway wears you down." "I was going to switch to journalism and was on my way to Strong Hall to do that."
On her way across campus, she began talking with a couple of students who were handing out fliers for the upcoming Langston Hughes symposium at KU. They began sharing stories about creative writing classes, and White decided on the spot that was the major she would seek.
"Now the classes I have to take are Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound," she said, a smile spreading across her face.
White, who works at the Jazzhaus, carries a small notepad wherever she goes. She also keeps notepads on the nightstand by her bed, in her backpack and in her purse.
"I write down what's in my head. I write a lot between classes," she said. "I use writing as a process of thinking, not the other way around."
Next school year, White wants to participate in KU's study abroad program in Edinburgh, Scotland. She hopes to focus more on fiction, although she will always write poetry.
"I can't live without it," she said.
Hitting them hard
Thomas Yeahpau believes in writing stories and screenplays about the real world, and that sometimes offends his readers and viewers.
Yeahpau, a 26-year-old business administration major at Haskell Indian Nations University, writes about the hardships of being a "modern Indian" and doesn't shy away from the issues of alcoholism, domestic violence and racism. His winning fiction entry in the Langston Hughes Creative Writing Award competition is about his first sexual experience at age 14.
"You don't look for a story, the story comes to you," he said.
Yeahpau, a member of the Kiowa tribe, grew up in Anadarko, Okla. When he was 16, one of his teachers turned him on to American Indian literature and recognized his potential as a writer. But Yeahpau didn't take her seriously.
In 1996, Yeahpau enrolled at Haskell but still was not writing. His creativity was released a few years later after some Haskell classmates were killed in a traffic accident.
"I wrote a poem that night and I haven't stopped since," he said.
To say Yeahpau is prolific is an understatement. Since Dec. 18, he has written a 130-age screenplay titled "Braves." The story is about four American Indian boarding school students who are on the football team. The quarterback doesn't enjoy the game, because when he was a child his father would get drunk and make him throw the football. He eventually starts dealing drugs and is sent to prison.
Yeahpau also is finishing "X-Indians," a book of short stories, and editing "Hate Equals Hate," a film that will be shown at the Bare Bones Festival in Muskogee, Okla.
In "X-Indians," Yeahpau says he "deromanticizes Indians and tells the truth. It covers almost every aspect: drugs, new storytelling, love, women abuse, police harassment and the death of our so-called culture."
"Hate Equals Hate" is about reverse discrimination.
"It will offend some. It's about Indians discriminating against whites," he said.
The film revolves about a group of Indians who kill a white man every Columbus Day. When one of the group's former members returns home with a white wife, his old buddies turn on him.
Yeahpau, who works as a machine operator at E&E Display Group, writes about three hours each night and on the weekends.
"I don't have time to write all the ideas in my head," he said. "I hope when I break through I will have a lot of writing to back me up."