Young authors ignited by new SPARK! contest

Young authors ignited by new SPARK! contest
Keelan Kobaissi, left, Cody Perry and Kayla Tulugarjuk take home the top place prizes for the first ever Northwords SPARK! writing contest for students in grade 7 to 12. Each of the students has been invited to sit in on this year’s festival which takes place from May 28 to 31. They will also be honoured with a luncheon with special guest author Richard Van Camp.Photo: courtesy of École William McDonald Middle School, Dali Carmichael, and Patti Kay Hamilton.

After Fort Smith writer Patti-Kay Hamilton took home the top prize in the 2015 Canada Writes short nonfiction contest last year, she decided to pay it forward by setting up a similar opportunity to challenge youth in the NWT.

A director on the board of NorthWords NWT, a group that supports the territory’s authors, Hamilton ignited SPARK!, a new writing contest for youth in Grades 7 to 12.

Partnered with the Northwest Territories Power Corp., they announced the contest’s first winners last week.

Around 100 pieces were submitted from five regions across the NWT. From there, a whittled-down shortlist of 14 stories – each 1,000 words or less – was subjected to the careful eyes of three guest judges, including former CBC journalist Paul Andrew, current CBC radio host Allison Devereaux and award-winning Yellowknife author Jamie Bastedo.

Keelan Kobaissi, Junior winner (Yellowknife)

Keelan Kobaissi, 13, was awarded the top prize for the junior Yellowknife category. The eighth grader from William McDonald School wrote a mystical story called Hawaii.

“It was set almost in the Middle Ages and it was just about a guy who lost everything,” Kobaissi said. “There used to be a lot of what he was – he was a wandering willow – and they were burnt down by the humans because they thought they were bad and then he just tells what happened, how he got burnt.”

Kobaissi said he was inspired by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which he happened to be reading as he was writing his story.

This isn’t Kobaissi’s first story, though it is the first one he submitted to a writing contest. He was shy about sharing his words before, but now encourages others to make their talents known.

“I used to write stories and I used to never show them to anyone,” he said. “I just started off small, I showed them to my dad and then I’d show it to my brother. Then I entered one into the contest and if I won decided I’d show my friends. If you’re shy just start off small, don’t show everyone you know, just someone you can trust.”

Cody Perry, Junior winner (outside Yellowknife)

Paul William Kaeser (PWK) High School student Cody Perry, 14, of Fort Smith was also inspired by JRR Tolkien when he wrote his short story, King of Storms.

“It’s about a knight climbing a tower for unknown reasons, and he encounters a dragon at the top and it’s a fight,” Perry said. “The dragon gets struck by lightning and falls off the tower, bringing the knight with him, but for some reason the dragon dies but the knight survives. He ends up finding a wood crown next to the dragon with a knot.”

While writing the tale, he said he learned that writing is a process. The story is allowed to evolve and writers don’t totally have to stick to their plan.

“The original plot for the story I wrote was not a dragon, it was just a person,” he said. “It was just going up an old tower then that was it.”

Kayla Tulugarjuk, Senior winner

PWK High School senior Kayla Tulugarjuk, 17, wanted to create a unique story when she wrote The Moon’s Staring Back.

“My story was about a girl who decided that she was in love with the moon,” she said. “It was a self-reflection on who she wanted to become and grow to become as a person based on factors in her life.”

Tulugarjuk said she was inspired by a multitude of factors, the most prominent being the need to think outside the box.

“We were submitting stories, there was a theme – your greatest heart’s desire – and I noticed that a majority of the people were writing about love,” she said. “I thought there’s more to desire than a physical connection with a person, it could be an emotional connection with yourself or with outside factors.”
Runners-up included Rae Panayi from William McDonald School in Yellowknife, as well as Noaka Taylor and Jeremy Biscaye-Evans from PWK in Fort Smith.

All of the SPARK! winners are invited to attend the 10th anniversary Northwords Festival from May 28 to 31, where they will be honoured with a luncheon with this year’s keynote speaker, Richard Van Camp of Fort Smith.

All the winning stories can be found at

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