I watched the Scripps National Spelling Bee last night.

It was on ABC, the spelling bee, shoving aside Grey’s Anatomy.  A prime time slot for a spelling bee! The prelims were on ESPN, for heaven's sake. Large swaths of America were, apparently, for awhile at least, deeply interested in words. The guy at my Sprint store watched it too, and several of the Sprint store customers as well.  We talked, today, about some of our favorite words and word-related incidents.  The National Spelling Bee was a major event.  Young people spelling big words drew national attention.  The Vice President’s wife was in the audience to watch young people who cared about word derivations and parts of speech.  So what if many of the folks who watched the Bee could only spell words that had to do with food, there was a general interest in language on national television.  That made me pretty excited.

When the end game came and only one of those amazing young people could go home with the prize, I couldn’t help but think about A. Van Jordan’s moving book, MacNolia.  Based on the life of MacNolia Cox, a finalist in the National Spelling Bee in 1936, the book traces the experience of being the first African American to make it to the National Spelling Bee and what became of her in the years after her loss.  Cox's was a sadder outcome than what I hope for the young people we saw on stage last night, but the book, with its attention to characters attentive to words, is worth a read.

Kudos to all the spelling bee contestants.  Your accomplishments have not gone unnoticed.

Originally Published: May 30th, 2009

Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.   Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic...

  1. June 2, 2009
     Annie FInch

    Then there's that truly fabulous 2006 family movie "Akeelah and the Bee." .

  2. June 2, 2009
     camille dungy

    And Spellbound (2002)!