On most evenings for the last 10 weeks 9-year-old Robert Pryor and his grandfather sat in the living room of the family's Northeast Washington home studying words that neither of them knew.
The elder Pryor, also named Robert, would call the words out and the younger Pryor would spell them, usually while playing with a miniature truck or some "Star Wars" character.
Because the silver-haired grandfather could not pronounce some of the words, his daughter Emma, Robert's mother, recorded the words on a tape so he could play them back later for his grandson. Then as Robert spelled the words, his grandfather checked the list to make sure the boy was correct.
"If you can't pronounce words, that's the best you can do," the 58-year-old Pryor offered yesterday, as he sat in an office at Hobson Middle School in Southeast, where young Robert is a student and now a celebrity.
On Tuesday, the fifth grader became the youngest D.C. student to win the citywide spelling bee, beating 13 other contestants. In May he will represent the District in the national spelling bee.
"I was scared, but I had a dream [that] I won -- and I won," said Robert, who collects "action figures," loves to read about reptiles, and says that when he grows up he wants to "work in an office building on computers like my mommy.
"Every time I'm in a spelling bee, I dream I win -- and I win," he said.
Before becoming citywide champ, Robert won the spelling bee at his school and then won the championship for his region. The winning word in Tuesday's contest was k-a-t-z-e-n-j-a-m-m-e-r, which means travesty.
He had already spelled such words as "kaleidoscope," "stanniferous" and "dilettantism." The smallest contestant, at 4 feet 5 inches tall, he astounded his audience with his rapid-fire delivery and his poise.
After Robert stepped under the lights and spelled the winning word, his mother, a senior computer analyst, and his grandfather, a minister, jumped to their feet. His school coach, Betty Duncan, was proud, too. Another Hobson student she coached, Joy Jones, finished third.
"I think Robert is just as good as any kid in this country," Duncan said. "If he's seen a word, he can spell it. It's amazing. And it helps that he's got . . . his grandfather and mother behind him."
Because Emma Pryor's job requires that she travel a lot, the divorcee has found that sharing a household with her parents in the 600 block of E Street NE has provided much-needed support for herself and Robert.
Her father was Robert's main spelling coach when she was out of town. It was the second time the elder Robert coached a champion. Emma Pryor won a Pittsburgh spelling bee 22 years ago, when she was in the seventh grade.
"I helped her, so I had experience in coaching," her father said, laughing. "But she didn't win just because she was a smart child. When a child wins, it's partially because of the parent.
"It takes the parent and the school working together," he said. "And you can't wait until there's a spelling bee. I started way before that."
The elder Pryor, who writes poetry, passed on to his daughter a love of words. Later, Emma Pryor, without really trying, passed the same gift to her son.
In 1983, both Emma and her son won the Pyramid Book Store's African heritage spelling bee, which had divisions for adults and children.
"He learned to read at age 3," she said of Robert. "He'd watch me lay in bed and read and he'd get a book and do the same. When he learned to read, he was thrilled with it. He wanted to read everything."
"My favorite books are about reptiles, snakes and lizards, books that don't have pictures," said Robert, who wears a bright yellow cap with a red dinosaur and "Tyrannosaurus" printed on the front.
He clearly is enjoying his stardom, answering "yes" to the question: "Do you feel like a star?" and adding with a smile and a shrug, "I feel different."
But while the youngster basks in the limelight of his victory, the elder Robert has already turned his attention to next month's national spelling bee.
"We have to figure out how to study for this one," said the grandfather. "We may go through a little light routine when we get home."