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WordSmith winners Wordsmith participants


Celebrating over 35 years at the University of Memphis, the WordSmith competition brings 200 middle and high school students from 30 area schools to the University of Memphis to test their writing and creative thinking skills with a series of quick writing exercises known as dashes.

These dashes include a 40-word dash that asked students to describe an object without actually naming it. The 100-word dash asks students to create a narrative of events depicted in one of a set of interesting and unusual pictures. Students also participate in a 120-word dash that asks them to write a letter to the editor taking a stance on an issue referenced by a collection of recent news headlines.

At the conclusion of the first three events, door prizes are given out and student winners of each dash and in each grade are announced. Each student winner is then invited to participate in the 400-word main event dash, a chance to write for 60 minutes on topics selected by WordSmith organizers.

The first three dashes are judged by English Department faculty and local English teachers who also serve as coaches for many of the teams. The final dash is judged by University of Memphis Department of English faculty members. Winning entries are published and distributed to all participating schools.

The event is sponsored by the University of Memphis Department of English.

For more information, enjoy these videos (2013 and 2012) about WordSmith or find us on Facebook!

Wordsmith 2017

Wordsmith 2017 flyer

It's time once again to prepare for the annual WordSmith Writing Olympics at the University of Memphis! This year, the annual contest for your best student writers in grades 7 through 12 will be held on Sunday, February 26 in the University Center Ballroom. Entry materials are posted at the link included below. The entry deadline is Monday, February 13. Please see the materials in the registration packet for full instructions, fee information, permission slips, and other important details.

Many of you will likely recognize the inspiration for this year's theme in the photo above: the Broadway musical Hamilton. In the spirit of our theme, we are once again using the competition for a voluntary community service project: a children's book drive for Porter-Leath. Like Alexander Hamilton himself, most members of the WordSmith community are passionate about the written word, and many of us likely cannot remember a time when reading and writing have not been an essential and beloved part of our lives. We know that early, consistent, and easy access to reading material is essential for nurturing the literacy skills necessary not only for stimulating the imagination but also for navigating the complexities of life in the twenty-first century. However, for many Memphis families, such access to books is almost impossible. In an effort to support the growth of literacy among low-income Memphis families (and recruit new participants for the decades to come!), WordSmith is pleased to use this year's competition as a way of putting as many books as possible into little hands in Memphis with the help of Porter-Leath, an agency that has served our community for over one hundred and sixty years.

Want to participate? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Bring new or gently used books (appropriate for children up to age five) and place them in the collection bin we will have near the registration table on Tournament Day.
  • Have your team members sponsor a book drive at your school.
  • Encourage your team members to put their social media expertise to good use by sharing the Porter-Leath/WordSmith Amazon wish list on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter! Donors can click on the desired title from the list and have a book sent directly to Porter-Leath offices. In addition to books, the list also features toys encouraging early literacy development.
  • Encourage older students to share their time and passion for reading at Porter-Leath centers across the city.

For more information on Porter-Leath, check out their website at www.porterleath.org.

Please email the Wordsmith Director at cdice@memphis.edu if you have any questions, and please feel free to share this information with your colleagues around the community (tracking down reliable emails is always quite a challenge!).

Wordsmith Registration Packet

Registration Forms are always available in late fall or by contacting the Director, Cathy Dice, at cdice@memphis.edu

Important Links

National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
University of Memphis Campus Map


Catherine Dice: cdice@memphis.edu, Patterson Hall, 901.678.4535