Bedford sophomore takes top honors in City of Literature contest
Monday, June 23, 2014

Seven high school sophomores from across Iowa will receive scholarships for their entries in the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature organization’s 2014 Paul Engle Day: Glory of the Senses Essay Contest. The University of Iowa partnered with the Iowa City organization to offer the top prize winner one year of free tuition to the UI.

The winning essay was “The Trail of Senses That Leads Me Home” by Palen Stream, a student at Bedford Community High School in southwest Iowa. In the essay, she writes about a series of places in and around her community that to her are “quintessential Iowa.”

A team from ACT in Iowa City judged the essays. In notes about the winning essays, the judges wrote that Palen’s essay “is a tour-de-force through the sounds, smells, and sensations of quintessential Iowa, taking her reader fluidly through the complex set of emotions that arise from growing up in a state with one foot planted firmly in tradition and one foot pointed toward the future.”

The contest asked Iowa high school sophomores to write a three-to-five-page essay about an “Iowa experience,” drawing on a specific memory to capture the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches of the day.

The contest and an accompanying weeklong curriculum distributed to all high schools in Iowa are based on the writings of Paul Engle—the longtime director of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop and co-founder of the UI International Writing Program—particularly his memoir, A Lucky American Childhood.

“I congratulate our winner, Palen Stream, as well as our runners-up and all the talented students who submitted their writing to the contest,” says UI President Sally Mason. “We are proud to collaborate with the UNESCO City of Literature on this wonderful initiative that moves the tradition of excellent Iowa writing into the future by cultivating and recognizing new talent. The young people who participate in the contest demonstrate that, in the tradition of Paul Engle, an Iowa childhood is fertile ground for great writing.”

Six runners-up will receive $500 cash scholarships from the City of Literature. The scholarship fund is composed of donations from individual donors made during an event hosted by UI President Mason and her husband, Ken.

The runners-up are:

  • Sarah Cabeen, Clarinda High School
  • Claire Boes, Abraham Lincoln High School (Council Bluffs)
  • Sierra Paul, Bedford Community High School
  • Erin Kinne, Boone High School
  • Paige Curry, Spencer High School
  • Cassidy Strickland, Bedford Community High School

All prize winners will be recognized Oct. 4, at an event held in conjunction with the Iowa City Book Festival.

UNESCO designated Iowa City as the third City of Literature in the world in 2008. It is now one of seven Cities of Literature and part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network. With a mission of “connecting readers and writers through the power of story,” the organization offers a variety of programs that include the One Book Two Book Children’s Literature Festival and the Iowa City Book Festival. For more information, visit