Write to the Point!

A Neighborhood Studios Program at the Mark Twain House

Archive for the tag “Connecticut”

Visiting the State Capitol and Connecticut’s Heroes

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The Jakes, short for “Journalism Kids” – the name the Twain Studios Writing Apprentices chose for themselves – thought the Press Room of the Connecticut State Capitol was pretty cool. From left, are Meaghan Szilagyi, Ashaya Nelson, Rae Martin, Molly Miller, Alan Burkholder, Cecilia Gigliotti, Ambriel Johnson, June Tran, Grant Henry and Jahyra White. The apprentices visited the Capitol in their final days at Twain Studios. Many had never been there before, and none had seen the Press Room. They loved it.

Jakes in Capitol press room.1

Writing Apprentices fit right in at the Press Room of the state Capitol. From left, Jahyra White, Rae Martin, Ashaya Nelson, Ambriel Johnson, Meaghan Szilagyi, June Tran, Cecilia Gigliotti, Molly Miller, Grant Henry and Alan Burkholder

Mark Pazniokas talks to Jakes at Capitol

Veteran news reporter Mark Pazniokas of the CT Mirror spoke with the Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios when they visited the state Capitol’s Press Room.

Jakes with state heroine statute

Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios with a statue of Connecticut’s State Heroine, Prudence Crandall and her student. From left, Ambriel Johnson, June Tran, Rae Martin, Meaghan Szilagyi, Alan Burkholder, Molly Miller, Ashaya Nelson, Grant Henry, Cecilia Gigliotti, Jahyra White

Jakes with Nathan Hale

Writing Apprentices of Twain Studios with State Hero Nathan Hale, in the Capitol. From left: Grant Henry, Alan Burkholder, Ambriel Johnson, Molly Miller, Meaghan Szilagyi, Jahyra White, Rae Martin, June Tran, Ashaya Nelson. In front, Cecilia Gigliotti.

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America Offered Opportunities, But First Lessons Were Tough

Bad boy players, Cecilia, Ambriel, June, Meaghan

June Tran is one of several Twain Studios Writing Apprentices who performed a skit based on a piece that their peer, Meaghan Szilagyi wrote about “bad boys.” The skit was part of the Twain Studios Showcase, a celebratory night to recognize their work. In this photo are, from left, Cecilia Gigliotti, Ambriel Johnson, Tran and Szilagyi. Rae Martin also performed in the skit but is not shown in the photo.

By Meaghan Szilagyi

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

At the tender age of eight, June Tran moved with her family from her native home in Vietnam to Connecticut.

Looking for better opportunities in America, her parents moved the family into the Colonial-style South Windsor home of her aunt. They lived there until Tran was 11.

“She’s a cranky old lady,” Tran said.

At first, it wasn’t easy living in America.

During elementary school, Tran said she always felt “incompetent.”

She didn’t grow up speaking English, so she was in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, which made her feel stupid. Her third grade teacher even let June copy answers from the student next to her during spelling tests. The student didn’t seem to like it, Tran said.

Despite the fact that June lived in South Windsor, she went to Two Ricers Magnet Middle School in East Hartford.

She had a hard time adjusting to American culture.

In Vietnam, people are very “blunt,” Tran said. So when Tran, in her first year in the United States, met her chubby new friend Sara, she said what came to mind and called her friend fat.

Tran was not expecting the lecture that followed from her teacher about how her words could hurt. She had to write an apology letter.

After this incident, Tran tried hard not to get in trouble for offending someone.

Unfortunately, other kids did not feel the same way.

Tran’s first name was originally “Doung.” Because of this, she was constantly tormented. Since it was similar to the spelling of her name, one boy even suggested they call her “dung.”

“I didn’t know kids would be that mean to me,” said Tran.

She started going by the name June ever since, because it sounded like “Doung” anyway. Last year, June began the process of legally changing her name.

Tran is grateful that her parents moved to the United States because it gave her more opportunities as a female.

In Vietnam, women aren’t allowed in their family cemeteries and also aren’t allowed to take possession of their family shrine, Tran said. June said she would like to move back to Vietnam in the future, but doesn’t regret having a life here.

As a woman, there would be fewer chances for her to get a respectable education in Vietnam, she said.

June had her first real exposure to science in high school. Growing up around her father, a physics professor, science had always been a part of her life. When she started taking biology, she was sure it would be a part of her career.

Next, she took chemistry and decided maybe she would do something with biochemistry and pharmaceuticals.

Then while talking to a family friend, June realized that maxillofacial prosthetics was the right field for her. This family friend, a specialist who does dental reconstruction, told June that it was a “torturing career.”

Although you make people happy, he told Tran, the possibility of your patient dying is a horrifying thought, especially because you can get attached to them.

In Vietnamese, “Duong” is the name of a tree that, against all odds, can survive a monsoon. Its resilience is symbolic. Tran hopes to keep up the legacy of her name by staying strong through the toughest of situations.

Soccer is Just One of Ambriel Johnson’s High School Goals

Rae, Meaghan, Ambriel

Ambriel Johnson, right, connected with other Writing Apprentices at Twain Studios. Here she is taking a break with friends Rae Martin, left, and Meaghan Szilagyi, center.

By Grant Henry

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Fourteen-year-old Ambriel Johnson is a freshman at the Connecticut International Baccalaureate Academy, just starting her high school career.

She plans to pursue many of her hobbies at the school, like writing and clarinet playing, but she is especially looking forward to joining their soccer team.

Johnson has played soccer since she was six.

“Probably my dad got me into it,” she said. “My dad was my first coach. He coached me till I was about nine.”

Soccer clearly provides a good bond between father and daughter. They watch soccer games together, and he goes to as many of his daughter’s games as he can.

“He still plays, even though he’s like 40,” Johnson said with a smile.

At first she played only recreational games, but began playing varsity once she felt she was ready. She’s already won many trophies in tournaments with her traveling team.

Along with personal experience, she often watches soccer games on the television.

“I always watch the World Cup and the Women’s World Cup.”

Though Johnson has no particular team she roots for, her favorite athletes are Mia Hamm and Lionel Messi.

Johnson’s passion for soccer is clear when you talk to her. She “gets pumped” before every game by wearing an orange prewrap as a headband.

“It’s like my lucky thing,” said Johnson.

On an average week she will have two practices and two games. During tournaments, it’s five to six games. It is unclear how rigorous her high school’s soccer team is, but she plans to attend the tryouts.

If she feels her skill level has advanced far enough, she will join the team of her future college, but that time is far away.

As school gets underway, the athletics department will have a skilled young athlete to bring life to the soccer field.

Johnson’s love of the sport inspires those close to her to find a similar passion for a hobby of their own.

Stowe’s Skillful Balancing Act

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Harriet Beecher Stowe’s home on Forest Street in Hartford, Conn.
Photo by Cecilia Gigliotti

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Harriet Beecher Stowe, born June 14, 1811, was always a balancer.

From the day this great American novelist was born until she died on July 1, 1896, she was always searching for a way to balance her work with other important things.

Whether it was finding a way to spend more time with her children, paint, or work on her now-world-famous novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Stowe always strived for a balance.  She sought a way to do her best in anything and everything she did.

This author is not only known for her book which changed the face of America forever, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, but other bestselling novels such as Oldtown Folks and The Minister’s Wooing.

As most Americans probably know already, Uncle Tom’s Cabin expressed Stowe’s opposition to slavery. Not all people in Stowe’s time agreed with this view, however, and she became despised by many.

This hatred never stopped her from writing. Stowe enjoyed the craft; she wrote her entire life, from childhood until her death.

Stowe sometimes used writing as a way to escape her life when things got rough. Her beautiful Connecticut mansion wasn’t always a place of comfort as it is talked about. She lost more than one of her children at a young age and used her writing as a way to deal with the sadness.

She enjoyed art almost as much as she enjoyed her writing.  Her paintings are prominently displayed at her home in Hartford, Connecticut, where she moved with her husband and children in 1873.

This extraordinary woman was not only the author of 30 books – one containing advice for homemakers – but a painter in her free time. She did most of this hobby painting while visiting her winter home in Mandarin, Florida. Connecticut became too cold for the Stowe family during the winter, so they spent the season in their Florida home.

It’s obvious to visitors that Stowe enjoyed painting landscapes. The decorated hallways of her estate are lined with her art. All the way from portraits to a number of still life paintings, Stowe did it all.

In the front parlor of her home, sophisticated pastels of garden life and country homes adorn the walls.

The home also includes paintings by at least one of Stowe’s daughters, who were aspiring artists like their mother.

The front parlor is the space where the Stowe’s guests would be entertained in the evenings. It is also the space where Stowe herself did most of her writing, at a small wooden desk tucked away in a corner.

Her husband Calvin, a professor of religion, had his own study in the upstairs of their home, tucked between the bedrooms. Despite the fact that Stowe was wildly more successful than he, she was reduced to a microscopic desk in the family living room.

Stowe made more than $1,000 on her first novel. In her time it was unusual for the woman of the house to make more money than the man, however Stowe’s husband was very supportive of her career.

Stowe’s family spent time together in the back parlor of her home. This room included many extravagant decorations, including a painting given to Stowe by a duchess who was a big fan of Stowe’s work.

Stowe was sometimes forced to give up time when she could be working on her art to pursue other things. After all, she did have seven children. This did not stop her from becoming a great American novelist, a role model for writers and an icon for all people.

Stowe, who expertly balanced her work and busy family life in her marvelous Hartford home, will forever have an impact on our world.

CT News Junkie Editor Shares Her Story With Young Reporters

By Ambriel Johnson

Writing Apprentice

Twain Studios

Many Connecticut residents have visited the Mark Twain House & Museum, and even more may have endlessly searched for a reliable local news source.

These two merged together Wednesday into one woman, the editor of CT News Junkie, Christine Stuart.

Updated daily, Stuart’s popular Connecticut news site includes original reporting on state politics, public policy, the courts, and the complexities of the health care system.

This Central Connecticut State University graduate and editor-in-chief of one of Connecticut’s leading news websites addressed a group of young journalists at The Mark Twain House & Museum.

Stuart discussed how she got her start in journalism and how the young writers can get theirs, too.

The apprentices of the Write to the Point! Neighborhood Studios program eagerly questioned Christine about everything from her favorite news story to how old she is. The answer is 36, by the way.

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CT News Junkie Editor Christine Stuart

A few months after Stuart graduated from CCSU in 1999, the Hartford Advocate offered her a position as a reporter.

She was glad to take this position. She’d spent months waiting to hear from any one of the many news organizations she’d sent resumes to after graduation.

“Being a journalist is one of the only ways you can make a living writing,” said Stuart. “You do it because you love it. You don’t do it because it is going to support you.”

Stuart told the writing group that before she started CT News Junkie, she would typically have to take on two or three jobs besides reporting, just to get by.

However, after struggling to make a name for herself in the news industry, Stuart finally landed a better job at the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

At the Journal Inquirer, Stuart covered a variety of beats, including the city of East Hartford, the state’s trash authority and a regional water commission.

In early 2006, after spending nearly four years as a reporter at the Journal Inquirer, Stuart bought CT News Junkie from a friend. She and her husband, Doug Hardy got this news site on its journalistic feet that same year.

Regular viewers of the site, she said, check it about four times a day.

As one of only five women reporters at the Capitol, Stuart primarily covers government and politics.

When asked her advice for beginner journalists, Stuart had a simple answer.

“Go out and do it,” she said. “Offer your stories up to publications.”

So, shut up and listen.

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