Opinion Columns & Blogs

Say hello to another select crew of reader columnists

The South Sound abounds with talented writers. Unfortunately, they share the plight of talented musicians and artists everywhere: Most don’t have the chance to make a living at it, so the public rarely sees their work.

We’re doing our best to fix that. Every year, we in the opinion section pick a handful of exceptional nonprofessionals to feature as reader columnists atop our Monday pages. Their columns are personal essays, not the political or policy commentaries you normally find in the opinion section. We look for people who examine the world through a magnifying glass, who convey the quirks, comedies and tragedies of their own lives and the lives around them.

Many are called, but few chosen. A thick pile of applications lands on my desk every year, and we have to winnow the large field down to five or six. I have to say no to a slew of capable word-weavers; it’s one of the toughest parts of my job.

Today we introduce the 2015 lineup of reader columnists: Connie Connally, Karin Leeburg Larsen, Paula Larson, Deborah Morton, Karrie Zylstra Myton and Mario Penalver. Five women, one man.

Before going further, though, I’ll bid a proper farewell to our 2014 columnists.

Al Bartlett ran a time machine. He’s a retired educator and former Wyoming rancher. Several of his columns transported us to the prairie of the 1930s and 1940s, the days when “We’d churn our own butter, grind wheat for cereal, fry chickens and once in a while crank out ice cream.” His family’s first refrigerator ran on kerosene.

Ben Kastenbaum zeroed in on questions of identity, personal growth and the anxiety-fraught transition from school to career. Universal experiences. Though Ben loves football, he’s not a big guy physically. After last year’s Super Bowl, he wrote of “The Russell Wilson Effect”: The most important size is the size of your heart.

Isabel de la Torre, a native of the Philippines, was the wild card of the bunch. I never knew if she was going to make me laugh or cry. She probed the moral dimensions of gratitude and generosity – and showed parents how to ruin their teenagers’ favorite songs with diabolical parodies. (“You know I’d poop anything for ya ... but you won’t poop for me …”)

Emily Ge is a dazzlingly gifted senior at Charles Wright Academy. I won’t try to describe her exquisitely rendered columns – look her up on our website and read them, if you haven’t. She’s headed for Yale next year; I guarantee you will hear more from her.

Then there was Casey Silbaugh, a Clover Park educator who I’m sure is her school’s Teacher I Hope I Get. Her columns were saturated with empathy. Her final one, which ran Jan. 5, described her last walk through the halls of her ancient, just-abandoned school building, haunted by the echoes of long-gone classes and the sight of tiny drinking fountains for kindergartners who’ve grown up.

Back to the new lineup:

• Connie Connally is a Tacoma North End grandmother who’s currently pursuing a master’s of fine arts degree in creative writing.

• Karin Leeburg Larsen lives in Puyallup and works in Seattle while rearing two teenage sons. She spends her spare time reading, writing, running and “studying all things Irish.

• Paula Larson is a married lesbian birdwatcher who’s been a wildlife biologist and semi-professional standup comic. Yes, she’s funny.

• Deborah Morton is a corrections officer at the Pierce County Jail. She’ll share some glimpses of life on the inside.

• Karrie Zylstra Myton teaches English at Bates Technical College. Like pretty much everyone else here, she’s a compulsive writer. She’ll start off this group’s columns Monday with a piece on becoming an unlikely Seattle Seahawks fan.

• Mario Penalver teaches writing and drama in the Tacoma School District. Our public schools are a bottomless well of gifted people.

Five women, one man: The girls always get a head start on the boys on the verbal stuff. Male or female, you’ll enjoy them all.