Hector student wins national Beta Club writing award

By Tammy Keith Published August 28, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Justin Wilkinson, 18, of Hector won the state Beta Club creative-writing award, as well as the national award this summer. Wilkinson, the son of April and Ray Wilkinson, is attending Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. He said his goal is to be an English teacher and write “on the side.”

HECTOR — Give Justin Wilkinson of Hector a topic, a few words or a sentence, and he can write an award-winning story.

Wilkinson won first place in the creative-writing competition at both the state and national Beta Club conventions.

He said winning at the state level was “crazy,” but he was even more surprised about his national win this summer.

At the state competition in January in Hot Springs, 18-year-old Wilkinson was given a 17-word prompt, a limit of 300 to 500 words, and 1 1/2 hours to write.

“I got to use a dictionary and thesaurus. Other than that, it was just me in a room with pencil and paper and whatever came out of my head,” he said.

The story he had to finish was about a mad scientist who tells the writer “he’s going to turn one of your senses into a superpower, and he’s going to turn another one into a superpower, but it’s really, really bad,” Wilkinson said.

Wilkinson said his take on it was that “every time I come in contact with someone, I can see the good things they’ve done in the past, but I can hear all the bad thoughts they’ve had.”

The top-five finishers were called to the

stage, and when it was down to two, Wilkinson said, he was happy at the thought that he might place second.

“With that one, everyone from my Beta Club was there from my school; I didn’t want to let them down,” he said.

When Brick Cullum, a Vilonia student, placed second, Wilkinson realized he’d won.

“My school started cheering; I was really surprised,” he said of the win.

This summer, he represented Arkansas at the National Beta Club Convention in Richmond, Virginia.

This time, he was given a sentence to spark an idea: “As I looked out the window, I saw the light coming from the old deserted building.”

Wilkinson’s imagination led him to create a story about a man in an apartment building looking across the complex at an abandoned apartment building, and he sees a light.

“He calls his landlord and tells him to go check it out. The landlord goes over there and tells him, ‘There’s nothing over here; I don’t see anything,’” Wilkinson said he wrote in the story.

The man sits in his apartment, “really worried and freaked out that he saw it and nobody else can see it.”

He looks out the window again and sees himself — a doppelganger — straight across in the other apartment building.

“It freaks him out, and he passes out,” Wilkinson said. “It takes a turn. An hour later, instead of the main character waking up, his doppelganger wakes up.”

Again, the top scorers

were called to the front. And, just like at state, Cullum won second place, and Wilkinson finished first.

“So, Arkansas won first and second place at state and national,” Wilkinson said.

In the national convention, he was competing with about 15 other students, the best of the best.

“It means a lot, the fact that I won out of everyone who competed in the nation. It’s really humbling. I was honored to win that,” he said.

His mother, April Wilkinson, was there, as well as his sisters, Hannah, 14, and Hayley, 11.

Wilkinson said his mother is a voracious reader, especially of the true-crime genre, and his father, Ray Wilkinson, used to read a lot of Louis L’Amour.

“I’ve never heard of anybody in my family writing,” Justin Wilkinson said.

He gives some of the credit for his work to Kari Stroud, whom he had as an English teacher his junior year at Hector High School.

“She is a magnificent teacher,” he said. Although other English teachers helped him, he said, “she really praised me a lot and gave me good advice.”

Stroud said Wilkinson is “a wonderful student and person.”

“Justin is one of those students teachers dream about in the fact that he is very bright and smart,” she said. “However, he was also very quiet and reserved in the classroom. At first he was very shy about sharing his writing, but once he realized that others appreciated his ideas and his writing, he slowly began to share his work. The first time I read his stories, I realized he had a great talent and began to talk to him about his writing and what inspired him. He is a big Stephen King fan, and this is the style of writing he likes.”

Stroud said Wilkinson is “very meticulous about word choice, and his stories are the type that hook the reader immediately. You don’t want to put it down once you get started. He has a great grasp of the English language, and he truly knows how to use words to build awesome stories. We are all very proud of Justin and know he is going to continue to entertain others with the great stories he will pen in the future.”

Wilkinson started classes at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville this week, and he has a clear goal.

“I want to be an English teacher and write on the side,” he said.

With two awards under his belt, he’s off to a great start.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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