14-year-old wins Mark Twain Days Writing Contest

Maverick Simon, a student at Dayton High School, won the high school division of Carson City’s Mark Twain Days Writing Contest.

Maverick Simon, a student at Dayton High School, won the high school division of Carson City’s Mark Twain Days Writing Contest.

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When Maverick Simon, 14, of Mound House received two perfect scores in the high school division of Carson City’s first Mark Twain Days Writing Contest, it brought his mother to tears.

Maverick, who is on the autism spectrum and is one of 23 children adopted by Merrill and Roberta Simon in Mound House, became “wrapped into the mind of Mark Twain” with his entry, Roberta Simon said.

“He understood Mark Twain more than I could,” Roberta Simon said.

Carson City’s Mark Twain Days Writing Contest in March offered youth an opportunity to submit pieces that explore the acclaimed author and to create their own pen name. Sierra Scott, Arts and Culture supervisor for Carson City, said participants were encouraged to write a 500-word narrative in the theme “Yours Dreamily, Mark Twain,” the signature with which Clemens used to sign his first letter using his pen name, and to dream for themselves, their community or beyond. Entries could be in the form of an essay, story or poem with judges looking for a style that might be considered “satirical, irreverent, evocative or even silly at times” and would be published in the contest program and read at the festival event from April 21 to 23 in Carson City.

Entries also will be published in the national periodical, the Mark Twain Journal.

“Maverick’s piece resonated with all of our judges and he got two perfect scores,” Scott said. “They were looking for originality, quality of writing, structure, technique and style and connection to the theme, and we had applicants from all over Northern Nevada.”

Maverick Simon chose “Jeremiah Lawyer” as his pen name and had written a story with elements of humor and satire emulating Clemens’ style.

“I expected upon my arrival to be greeted by a horde of demons who would show me my writings, torturing me by pointing out my grammatical errors and gross understatements of human nature,” Maverick wrote. “What I encountered was worse: politicians! A swindle of them! A swindle is the proper way to identify a group of politicians. They quickly surrounded me intent on making me their voter.”

The Simons’ children throughout the years have documented disabilities stemming from fetal alcohol syndrome or drug abuse. Roberta said it has been an “amazing journey” providing emergency shelter for them as she and Merrill have worked through the adoption process with the Nevada Division of Child and Family Services.

From an early age, Maverick has had a brilliant mind and began reading, she recalled. But keeping him motivated academically and working in school has been difficult. When his elementary school principal became frustrated about how to help him and his library ran out of appropriate books for him to read, Maverick began reading the dictionary, a personal item of interest he makes in his entry.

Roberta was proud of him for grasping Clemens’ style in the contest.

“He attacked — which was hard for me — Christianity and how Mark Twain felt about Christianity, how he felt about hell,” she said. “Mark Twain hated politicians. If you read his piece, he really understands what Mark Twain’s written.”

School was different for Maverick, Roberta said, and the contest allowed him to feel success after experiencing so many good and bad days and to explore his own likes and dislikes.

“The air of Hell invigorates the lungs, I can’t help but wheeze inhaling the acrid air,” Maverick wrote. “The landscape too, is insufferably bland; nothing but fire and brimstone for miles. I thought I might die, lacking anything interesting to do. Thankfully I did not suffer long. My current predicament ensured plenty of entertainment.”

Scott said city staff members hope the Mark Twain Days Writing Contest will become an annual event.

“I was just so moved by this story because it shows the power of the arts in ways that may be unexpected,” Scott said.

Roberta Simon said Maverick couldn’t understand why more students didn’t participate in the contest but was proud of what he’s accomplished given what he’s had to overcome.

“Some days we just want to throw in the towel, and those days are very much a struggle,” she said. “That’s why I cry with Maverick’s success. His light shines. He loves writing and he loves reading, and I was just amazed. His home life has its ups and downs, and he understands that everybody has issues.”


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