"Kenny, your writing is lovely, so graceful and professional. [...] The ability to sustain an almost 20-page paper with great focus and unity is a major skill that most of your peers cannot handle. [...] You also have a great professional writing talent, too." - Dr. Windy Rachal, associate professor of English at Nicholls State University

MY WRITING JOURNEY: A LITERACY NARRATIVE

Lord of the Flies. I had heard nothing but negative comments about the book -- too much violence, too much rebellion, too much sex, too much this, too much that. My mom didn’t like the idea that I had to write an essay about it. After all, I was still in high school, and she wanted to know all of my assignments.

She suggested I read over Cliff’s Notes and rent the movie. That would be good enough to get an A, and I wouldn’t have to fill my mind with “that garbage,” she said.

I disobeyed her. I spent three days drowning myself in the book. By the time I completed the book, I had a clear essay topic. My mind flooded with opinions, and I immediately knew where to reference my quotations. For once, I enjoyed writing. It took about two hours to complete -- the quickest I’d ever written a paper. I had always written well, but I can't say I enjoyed it.

Mrs. Galliano, my senior English IV instructor, handed back the paper with comments. I was pretty sure I'd made an A. I did, and she left a few nice comments on my paper. However, what Mrs. Galliano said to me about the essay would literally change the course of my life. She pulled me aside after class.

“Kenny, you seriously need to be a writer,” she said, smiling at me. “This is one of the best papers I’ve seen in all my years of teaching high school.”

Until then, I had not read many books. If they were required for one of my classes, I may have read them. Well, let’s just say I skimmed them. I made As and Bs, but I never felt like my research papers or essays were as good as they could be. It's not that I didn't want to put in the effort, but I was interested in so many activities and time was of the essence.

But, I knew I had more to offer. Though reading books wasn't one of those favorite activities, I did read every article of every sports page in The Courier, The Times-Picayune, and The Advocate. Oh, and I owned every copy of Sports Illustrated. I also loved researching encyclopedias for people and events - especially those linked to sports, of course.

At that time in my life, I desired to be a television sports broadcaster. My high school friend Bobby Marples deemed me “the walking Sports Illustrated.” There was just one problem. While I knew everything there is to know about the major sports and didn’t stop talking in a small group, I was timid and reserved in a large group setting. If my face had to be shown before millions of people on, say, Monday Night Football, I would have likely frozen. Or, I just would have not made any sense, thanks to nerves.

When Mrs. Galliano made those affirming comments, I suddenly had a clear career path. I knew I would pursue an undergraduate degree in some sort of writing field and possibly consider trying to obtain a master’s degree if it benefited my family and career. I knew this with my entire high school senior year ahead of me. Mrs. Galliano planted a vision inside of me.

More than 11 years later, I have never strayed from that journey.

After graduating from H.L. Bourgeois High School in 1999, I researched several universities. Both Mass Communication (print journalism) and English caught my attention. I got accepted into the journalism undergraduate program at Louisiana-Lafayette, but I decided to stay close to home and attend Nicholls State University. Within the first couple semesters, I knew I made the right decision. Several Mass Communication graduates from Nicholls have gone on to become semi-celebrities, including former Wall Street Journal Page One editor Ken Wells and filmmaker Tresha Mabile.

It definitely helped that some of the professors earned their doctorate degrees from some of the most prestigious journalism graduate schools such as Southern Mississippi, Missouri School of Journalism, and Louisiana State University. With each mass communication class, my writing, editing, and interviewing skills consistently improved. For the first couple years as an undergraduate, I focused on news writing.

At the same time, I joined the staff of the Nicholls Worth student newspaper as a reporter. In those classes and at The Nicholls Worth, I wrote clear and concise news stories that affected campus life. I had also had the opportunity to interview high-ranking officials at Nicholls. Ironically, I did not write one single sports story as a student. This was intentional. Sports writing would be too easy for me, and I wanted a challenge. I forced myself to write about other things.

My major writing breakthrough occurred during my junior year. That's when I took Feature Writing with the dreaded Dr. Lloyd Chiasson. Most students don't like Dr. Chiasson because his expectations of his students are very high. He rarely gives As or Bs, and students can expect their papers to be bleeding with red marks. I felt intimidated and sometimes discouraged in his class, but there's no doubt Dr. Chiasson is the best professor I've had during my years as a college student.

During my time in Dr. Chiasson's class, I discovered that feature writing is my niche. I love the creative freedom that comes with features. The inverted pyramid of news stories does not excite me. I made a B in Dr. Chiasson's class, one of the best accomplishments of my college days. By the time the semester ended, I had learned to write features at a professional level. Still more than a year away from graduation, The Courier started regularly publishing my features. Some even appeared on the front page and landed on the Associated Press wire.

Just a semester later, I had Dr. Chiasson again for Public Affairs Reporting. I again made a B, which would be the equivalent of an A in most classes. Public Affairs Reporting challenged me because it requires extensive research and asking tough questions during interviews. I also love this type of writing but not because of creativity as in features. The public affairs story gives the public vital information on many topics and often reveals data not generally known. Knowing the impact those stories have on the community is rewarding.

After graduating from Nicholls in 2004, editors at The Courier sent me news assignments almost daily and accepted nearly all of my feature story ideas. I did all of this just as a freelance writer for more than a year. During this time, I had also had several features published in local and regional magazines, as well as e-zines.

The Courier unfortunately had a hiring freeze, and I eventually got hired as a full-time staff writer for the Tri-Parish Times. My experience at the Tri-Parish Times was definitely unique, to say the least. Because the Tri-Parish Times is an independently-owned weekly publication with a staff of about four writers, each writer also held the position of photographer and copy editor. We were all responsible for taking pictures linked to our six or seven stories.

Then, each Monday afternoon, we all edited and proofread the paper twice before sending it to the printing press. Though the weekly agenda at the Tri-Parish Times was very exhausting, I learned to multi-task and work efficiently. However, my time at the Tri-Parish Times came to an end when a new opportunity opened for me at the family-owned Boudreaux's Cypress Woodworking Workshop. I needed a break from writing and wanted to experience something else for a while. I'm still working there today four years later. It's been a fun experience building furniture and improving my marketing, sales, and verbal communication skills.

In 2008, I returned to Nicholls to pursue a bachelor's degree in English with a concentration in creative writing. I had already minored in English, so I didn't have too many hours to complete. Since I work full-time during the day hours at Boudreaux's Workshop, I've only taken six or nine hours per semester. I should be finished with my English degree in May 2011.

Returning to Nicholls has been one of the best experiences of my life. I've been able to improve my analytical and researching skills. My writing has gotten better as well, and it shows in my grades. I've made all As in my English classes since returning to my alma mater as an undergraduate student. The combination of journalism and English has helped me become a versatile writer who can write just about anything. The combination of interviewing and observation skills in journalism with the analysis and research required in English is valuable.

During my hiatus from working at newspapers, I've still had the opportunity every now and then to get published in a local magazine or online publication. I got accepted to be a contributor to the national e-zine Suite 101 in June. Suite 101 allows writers to publish articles that Google ranks high during key word searches. It's a great marketing tool for writers like myself looking for a big break.

I'm confident I could write in any genre. I'm hoping the combination of journalism and English skills will lead me to a literary journalism career. Those jobs are few, but I can get there. It just takes hard work and dedication. I definitely have that.