Why will we Bee?

The First Knoxville Writers’ Guild Adult Spelling Bee is Friday, September 16, 2016, at 7p.m. at Central United Methodist Church, 201 3rd Ave., Knoxville.

Spelling bees have been part of the American education system since one-room schoolhouse days. Nearly every US-educated adult has vivid recollections of spelling bees. The Scripps National Spelling Bee is 91 years old, fed by competitions throughout the country, with increasing international participation. The finals are a prime time ESPN media event with high-level sponsorships, wide press coverage, and a dramatic build that has inspired multiple feature films.

Adult spelling bees are a fast-growing, u-b-i-q-u-i-t-o-u-s phenomenon. The AARP Spelling Bee is now in its 12th year; the 2015 finals were held in Knoxville! Churches, clubs, colleges, and professional groups have discovered the fun and fund-raising potential of these competitions. Many successful people are (or think they are) superior spellers. Watching them compete—waiting for “That is right” or the “ding” of “sorry”—provides remarkably intense audience entertainment.

As writers, there’s another powerful draw to the Bee—the magnificent, opulent wealth of the English language. We just have so darn many words, more than any other language, living or dead. We’re so open to invention. Shakespeare alone introduced over 1700 words to our lexicon. We’ve got porous borders, welcoming immigrant words from other countries, cultures and sub-cultures, and dialects. We have poecilonyms (synonyms) to parse out precise shades of meaning that other languages say with a phrase. English is just plain unco (unusual, remarkable).

But leaving aside the highbrow, we know that writing is hard work. Lonely work. If you run track, the stopwatch rates your efforts. How do we know when we’ve nailed it? It’s all so subjective. And let’s not even talk about finances.

So let’s have some fun with language. This Bee isn’t the high-stakes National Bee. It’s a fund-raiser, for one thing, with a modest ($10) tax-deductable entry fee. There’s a cash prize ($100), second prize, and door prizes. We have a kid stage manager. We’re giving prizes and cookies to everyone who walks up to that microphone. Doesn’t matter if you ace “restaurant” or stumble on “unco.” This is an event for pretty good spellers and good sports. Look at this way: You can’t lose. Playing a round is exciting, and once you sit down, you can be relieved you didn’t get X rough word that another speller is struggling with, or smug because you know it. Either way, it’s fun.

Bottom line: what we’re about in the First KWG Adult Spelling Bee is being just plain proud of our a-w-e-s-o-m-e language.

Get a friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member to play. Or just show up and cheer. We aim to be over in two hours and then go out and c-e-l-e-b-r-a-t-e.

Register for the Bee, get rules and word lists.

Pamela Shoenewaldt’s first novel, When We Were Strangers (HarperCollins, 2011), was a USA Today Bestseller, a major book club pick, a Barnes & Noble Great Discovery, short-listed for the Langum Prize in American Historical Fiction, and has been translated into Polish, Dutch, and Russian.

Pamela lived for ten years in a small town outside Naples, Italy. Her short stories have appeared in literary magazines in England, France, Italy and the United States. Her play, “Espresso con mia madre” (Espresso with my mother) was performed at Teatro Cilea in Naples. She taught writing for the University of Maryland, European Division and the University of Tennessee. Her interactive writing workshops inspire writers of all genre and stages.

Pamela lives with her husband, Maurizio Conti, a physicist, and their dog Jesse, a philosopher.

Find out more at pamelaschoenewaldt.com.