Officials: Literary competition is secure

After a week of confusion, it appears the Trumbull Arts Festival Literary Competition will continue after all.

The competition, now in its 38th year, is part of the Trumbull Arts Festival. Last week rumors swirled that the event was in trouble due to an anonymous letter writer and a possible loss of town funding, but officials have since clarified that the contest will continue, albeit with a few changes like making it more Trumbull-centric.

The contest received over 300 entries this year from across the country, including about 50 from Allegan, Michigan. The number of entries varies from year to year, but averages between 400 and 500, though Arts Coordinator Emily Areson said she has received as many as 850 in previous years.

The competition includes 12 separate categories, including poetry, fiction and non-fiction, with elementary, middle and high school age groups, and also an adult category. The Arts Commission publishes the winning entries in an annual literary magazine, PenWorks. The draw of the contest is the chance to become a published author.

For its entire existence up to this year, the competition has been low-key. That changed when an anonymous parent sent letters to numerous people in Trumbull, including Town Hall officials, Areson and the Trumbull Times. The parent complained that the 10 a.m. Sunday awards ceremony could conflict with religious observances, essentially forcing authors to choose between church and attending the ceremony.

An August 19 article in the Connecticut Post then declared the competition was ending after this year, and cited the letter and a sudden loss of funding. Areson was quoted as stating that, “Between no money and the controversy, it’s just too much.”

But town officials, including First Selectman Tim Herbst, Chief of Staff Lynn Arnow and Parks and Recreation Director Stuart McCarthy, all told the Times that the town remains committed to backing the competition.

Arnow said she had read the anonymous letter, but had also received feedback from numerous residents urging the town to keep the competition going.

“It’s one of the great things about Trumbull,” she said.

Arnow said the literary competition, which gets its funding from the Parks and Recreation Department, could be a better fit under the direction of the Library Board, and that she was looking into possibly setting up a collaboration between the two commissions, but that the contest’s future was secure.

McCarthy also said he was unsure where the rumor that the contest was losing its funding came from, but thought the most likely explanation was a simple miscommunication between the Post reporter and Areson.

Areson herself declined to speak to the Times about the controversy, though she did speak about some of the challenges that go into putting on the competition every year, including soliciting entries, recruiting judges and sorting and distributing hundreds of entries. She estimated that she spent an entire work week on the contest each year.

The awards ceremony for this year’s literary competition is September 11 at 10 a.m. at the library.