Writing Contest Begets A Book

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Jeff Rovner’s photograph “Yangon Monastery, Myanmar” was the inspiration for the city’s inaugural art-inspired writing contest. Photo by Jeff Rovner
Jeff Rovner’s photograph “Yangon Monastery, Myanmar” was the inspiration for the city’s inaugural art-inspired writing contest. Photo by Jeff Rovner

One of the winners of this summer’s art-inspired writing contest examines the interconnected humanity of life in Myanmar and Laguna Beach; the other contemplates the path taken by a monk in the Yangon Monastery.

With the conclusion of the city’s inaugural art-inspired writing contest, more than 30 contest participants are slated to share their work from 6-8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 30 at the Susi Q Community Center, 380 3rd Street.

The contest was announced in June by Laguna’s literary laureates Suzanne Readfearn and Lojo Simon to honor the tradition of art-inspired writing. Readfearn said she did not anticipate the level of participation or the degree of talent that would follow, nor did she ever imagine that she would feel compelled to turn the results into a book—“The Laguna Beach Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction.”

“It is a tribute to both the creative place we live, as well as Jeff Rovner’s beautiful photograph,” Readfearn said.

Orange County residents were invited to submit original works of 500 or fewer words, inspiredby Laguna Beach photographer Jeff Rovner’s image “Yangon Monastery, Myanmar,” which was on display at City Hall as part ofThe Artists Fund’s exhibit, the Festival of Arts organization that provides grants to local artists.

The Laguna Beach Arts Commission and Rovner each chose a winner for the contest.

Rovner selected Theresa Keegan’s short fiction, “Karma” as one of the two winners. Keegan is a former newspaper editor and columnist and was winner of the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s first place award in column writing in 2002 while working as an opinion columnist for the Contra Costa Times.

Laguna photographer Jeff Rovner poses with his photograph, “Yangon, Monastery Myanmar,” and a copy of the anthology of writings based on his image.
Laguna photographer Jeff Rovner poses with his photograph, “Yangon, Monastery Myanmar,” and a copy of the anthology of writings based on his image.

A newly minted Laguna Woods resident originally from New York, Keegan crafted a piece that juxtaposes Rovner’s photograph with a City Hall scene of builders with blueprints, permit seekers and staffers. Keegan, a freelance newspaper and magazine writer, said she’s “inspired by people, enraged by injustice, and treasures the wonders of nature,” adding that she still catches her breath every time she gets the first glimpse of the ocean driving into Laguna Beach.

The Arts Commission selected the poem “Sunlight Path” by Ellen Girardeau Kempler, a Laguna local who has won first place in the Laguna Beach Library’s annual poetry contest several times and is also a winner of Ireland’s Blackwater International Poetry Prize.

Girardeau Kempler has practiced art-inspired writing daily for the last two and a half years, taking a photo with her phone and writing a haiku about it. She says the exercise has taught her to consider the world more thoughtfully and use words more economically. Each day she posts the haiku on Instagram.

“It projects my identity as a writer, photographer, environmentalist, arts supporter, traveler and politically-engaged member of my community and the world,” she said.

Her passion fueled the publication of her first book, “Thirty Views of a Changing World: Haiku + Photos,” which includes black-and-white photos she took in Japan, Iceland, Laguna and California as inspiration. It’s available on Amazon and at Laguna Beach Books, as is “The Laguna Beach Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction.”

Readfearn said she was moved to compile the contest entries into a book because she felt “it was a crime for only two authors to be recognized.” So, to give the public and the authors the opportunity to see all 43 pieces, and to enable the writers to see their work published, Redfearn created the anthology.

Rovner, a Laguna local and FOA exhibitor whose photograph inspired each entry, had put Myanmar at the top of his travel wish list upon the recommendation of a globetrotting seatmate he met as a teen. When Rovner, the managing director for information at the global law firm O’Melveny & Myers, learned his friend and mentor Craig Semetko would be leading a two and a half week workshop in Myanmar, “the stars aligned,” said Rovner, whose wife funded the trip as a gift.

At the monastery, Rovner was drawn to a beam of early morning light hitting a hallway wall, he focused his camera lens about three feet away, and waited for “something important” to come onto the stage. When a monk, paying him no mind, passed by with his orange robe caught in a breeze, Rovner snapped the shot.

“Yangon Monastery, Myanmar” is still on display at City Hall, and a larger version printed on watercolor paper is available at Rovner’s Festival of Arts booth.


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