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Fairbanks middle school student wins $10,000 in national contest for library

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Posted: Monday, May 28, 2012 11:56 pm

FAIRBANKS — Diana Lanni, an eighth grader at Randy Smith Middle School, is a national winner in the Letters About Literature contest, the Library of Congress announced.

The contest includes a $10,000 prize awarded in her honor to the Noel Wien Library.

Lanni and thousands of other students across the country wrote letters to living or dead authors, describing the impact of their literary creations.  Lanni wrote to poet Robert Service, who died in 1958, about his poem “The Three Voices,” published in one of his collections.

The fine other national winners wrote to the likes of George Orwell, Mark Doty and Tim O’Brien.

In addition to the library grant from Target, she will receive a $500 gift card. Her dad, veteran airplane mechanic Ron Lanni, always recited poetry to her as a child and “The Three Voices” is one of his favorites.

The awards ceremony is going to take place June 16 at the Noel Wien Library.

Lanni, who studied under Chris Pastro at Randy Smith, told her parents she wanted to donate the money to the community library so that everyone can benefit. The 14-year-old will be a freshman at West Valley High School in the fall.

Here is her winning letter:

Dear Robert Service,

I have known your poem “The Three Voices,” since I was just a small child. I don’t even remember the first time I heard it. Back then, it was just the soothing rhythm of your words that mattered to me. Something familiar, something calming to help me fall asleep at night. I always loved it when my father read poetry to me, and “The Three Voices” was my favorite. I memorized it without even noticing.

But now that I’m older, now that I can understand the words, it has come to mean so much more to me. One line, “cling with my love to nature, as child to the mother-knee,” has meant more to me than any other. I remember as I read it, being a very little girl, at daycare, clinging to my mother’s knee, begging her not to leave me. But I always let go.

Thinking about this has let me let go of other things, and know that letting go is not the end of the world. I can now look at something, and know that I don’t need it, that I can let it go, and everything will be all right.

When I’m upset about something, I often find myself reciting this poem to myself. It inspires me in my writing, and my music. When I can’t remember how to play a song on my guitar, I fit the words of “The Three Voices” into my melody, and after awhile, the chords come more naturally.

When I read the lines of your poem, I can feel the hard packed dirt and roots under me, feel the warmth of the fire on my face, and feel the very longing you describe. All my memories come rushing back, and I remember something forgotten each time I read it.

Once I remembered (as I read the lines about the wind), a year when I went to Chitina to go fishing with my family. I was very little, and I had insisted on sleeping by myself in a one-man tent. The wind was blowing like a hurricane; so hard and fierce that I feared I would blow away and end up in the river, but I was also too stubborn to admit that I was too little to have my own tent, so I sat awake all night. I had forgotten this until your poem brought it back to the front of my mind.

“The Three Voices” has helped to shape who I am as a person, and to remind me of my love for nature when I’ve spent too long indoors. I live in Alaska too, and spend a whole lot of time out in nature, at family cabins, or just camping. So I know just how beautiful and enchanting this world can be. And like you, I know that the places where some people say there is nothing, just the middle of nowhere, there is really everything, and the center of what really matters.

I have gazed up at the stars so many times in my life, and heard them singing to me too, and I always feel so lucky to live in Alaska. Thank you for being my teacher.

Your reader,

Diana Lanni

LOCAL PHILANTHROPY: Public meetings are planned Wednesday in Fairbanks to help decide if there is enough interest in Fairbanks to start a proposed community foundation. 

Drop by at 8 a.m. or noon at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center or at 5:30 p.m. at the Noel Wien Library Auditorium to learn more.

The foundation could be an important step in expanding private philanthropy in our community and allowing existing nonprofit groups to do what they do best while relying on the foundation for technical and financial help.

The Alaska Community Foundation, assisted by the Rasmuson Foundation, has already helped establish several affiliates across the state.

Haines, Homer, Juneau, Kenai, Petersburg, Seward and Talkeetna have set up local foundations. As of last September these entities had raised nearly $4 million in assets for permanent endowed funds that support local projects.

 The Alaska Community Foundation assists with financial management, legal expertise, investment oversight, IRS reporting obligations and compliance with the best practices of the National Council on Foundations.

The Alaska Community Foundation says it “focuses on growing philanthropy throughout Alaska.”

“Communities may develop their own own endowment funds, and local advisory boards raise money for their community endowments. We all benefit by sharing financial management and the administrative and training resources of the Alaska Community Foundation,” the foundation says on its website.

Dermot Cole can be reached at or 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter at @FDNMdermot.

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