Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Great Gatsby [student] Essay Contest: Secrets, Goals and Dreams

This year the PEN/Faulkner Writers in Schools essay contest for the Big Read - D.C. is accepting BOTH written and video essays based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Give them 3 minutes (video/digital) or 1,000 words.

The deadline is Monday, May 12th. First prize is $300 to both the best essay and best video. $100 for runners-ups in each format.

The contest is open to all high school students in grades 10-12 in Washington, D.C. public or public charter high schools.
For the contest, students are asked to write a 1,000-word essay, or produce a 3-minute video that answers one of the following questions:

Question 1: Dishonesty is an underlying theme in Gatsby: Many characters in the novel have secrets about who they really are, where they come from, who they really love, even about crimes and misdeeds they have committed. Think about secrets that you or people in your life have had. These don’t have to be terrible or upsetting secrets, just things that are kept private for whatever reason. Write about the way one secret or personal fact has changed you in some way—either forced you to learn a lesson, helped you grow to become a better person, or helped you see the world in a different light.

Question 2: Although Jay Gatsby’s life comes to a tragic end, many of his goals and dreams seem genuine and true. Look at Gatsby’s “Schedule,”in Chapter IX. Then write about self-improvement goals you have set for yourself—the goals themselves and the changes you hope will come from acting on the goals. Are there certain “resolves”or “rules” you try to live by? What are they, and how have they changed as you grow older? Be sure to write briefly about what one or some of these goals are and then how they have (or will hopefully) change you.

Contest Guidelines:
  • The contest is open to all high school students in grades 10-12 in Washington, D.C. public or public charter high schools.
  • Written essay must be typed.
  • Video essays must be burned onto a CD or DVD.
  • The contest will run from now until May 12, 2008.
  • All entries must be RECEIVED BY May 12 at 5:00 PM
  • All entries must be clearly marked with your name and specifiy which essay question you're answering.
  • Please write your name school, email address, and telephone number on a sheet of paper separate from your entry.
Mail or hand-deliver Entries to PEN/Faulkner Foundation Writers in Schools Program
ATTN: Jamilla Coleman, Coordinator
201 East Capitol Street, SE
Washington, DC 20003
Questions? Call 202-898-9061

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Prohibition Years: Speakeasy Locations in DC

Kim Roberts is the author of "Jazz Age Scandals of the Rich and Scandalous!" The tour, commissioned by the Humanities Council of Washington DC for The Big Read, can be taken on your own using the self-guided tour brochure available online (click on the link for the PDF). There are also some spaces available for Kim's guided tours on April 26 and May 10, from 10:30 to 12:30. To reserve, please email or by calling 202-387-8391.

Kim writes:
While researching The Big Read DC tour this year, I knew right away that one of my themes would have to be Prohibition. The Prohibition laws started in DC in 1917, three years before they went countrywide, so the city was seen as a national model by Temperance organizations.

I wanted to add some former speakeasy locations to the tour, but soon found out how hard it was to find them with any certainty. In 1930, an anti-Prohibition group called The Crusaders published a map of 934 locations that had been raided in the prior seven-month period (934! And those were only the ones where the law had been enforced! There were probably over 2,000 in total). But the map, when I found a copy in the Library of Congress, was woefully lacking in details. Only the major streets were shown, and there were no exact addresses. I found some presumed speakeasy addresses from newspaper articles and oral histories taken many years after Prohibition ended, but these kinds of testimonies, dependent on fading memories, are notoriously faulty. Most researchers will only trust such sources if they can verify them with at least one other citation.

I could document enforcement and advocacy: I knew, for example, the exact location of the Anti-Saloon League of the District of Columbia (805 15th Street NW, in the Woodward Building). But somehow that was not quite as sexy.

So I turned my attention to private clubs. My favorite among the ones I found was the Gaslight Club, a legal organization located at 1020 16th St. NW. They developed a clever set-up for drinking members: to access the bar on the building's third floor, you had to enter through a faked men's bathroom. Then you had to turn a faucet handle to open a sliding panel that would admit you into the bar.

Many speakeasies were in private homes. There's one I found mentioned in a few places, so I believe the stories are trustworthy. It was in the living room of a third floor apartment on K Street. I knew the chances of this building still standing were poor, but like a dutiful researcher I went down there to see for myself. Much to my delight, I found it still exists--the original, intact, low-rise brick building, overshadowed by its high-rise neighbors. And (with strange appropriateness) it operates today as a strip club, Archibald's Gentleman's Club, at 1520 K St. NW.

The most famous of all the speakeasies was further down on K Street. The "Little Green House" at 1625 K was the headquarters of the notorious Ohio Gang. Cronies of President Warren G. Harding set themselves up in business there, with a combination speakeasy, gambling house, and brothel, operated by lobbyist Howard Mannington. This was said to be the place to arrange everything from protection from bootleggers, to the purchase of pardons and paroles, to appointments to Federal office.

The speakeasy that finally ended up on the tour (at stop number three), was another private club in the 1920s. The building still stands, and still operates as a club--but it is a public establishment now, offering an array of mixed drinks and live music. So raise a glass of booze at MCCXXIII Club, 1223 Connecticut Ave. NW, to the 18th Amendment, which made alcohol illegal across the US in January 1920, and--more importantly!--the 21st Amendment, which repealed Prohibition in December 1933.