“If it’s something that means a lot to you, then it’s worth writing about.” That’s some of the advice that Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards alumnx have for those public high school seniors applying to the scholarship program this year.
“Don’t worry about coming up with something that’s never been done before,” Hayoung Ahn, who won a CWA in 2016, continued. “Write about something that pushes you to your limits and stirs your soul, to the point where you can’t sit still when you think about it—and you just need to write it all down.”
The PRH CWAs give five, $10,000 scholarships to high school seniors across the US. But they can also provide something more: confidence.
“Winning Best in Borough for Brooklyn in 2016 for my personal memoir really gave me the confidence I needed going into college,” said Olivia Hockenberry “… I was very unsure and insecure about my writing. … After receiving the award, I knew that I had been second-guessing myself and I actually knew what I was doing. I knew what I had to say was valuable.”
Kelly Lam, who won an honorable mention in 2015 had a similar experience that extended to her career path as well. “I was touched that someone had read my work and saw potential in it. Receiving an Honorable Mention from the CWA encouraged me to write more, and to consider a career in writing.”
Winners of the Creative Writing Awards get more than scholarship money, they also receive professional development help from We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House. From meeting with publishing professionals to learning networking tips and tricks, the CWA alumnx community reaches far beyond one’s senior year of high school.
With categories like personal essay, fiction/drama, poetry, and spoken word, applicants have a chance to explore their creative side—even if it’s a new skill. “I submitted my piece thinking it would be a nice way for me to actually use some right-half brain muscles and ‘dump myself on paper,’ ” said Galen Ng, who won an honorable mention in 2016. “To my pleasant surprise, someone out there had read my work, enjoyed it, and considered it special enough to receive recognition, which felt very satisfying!”
The CWAs work to amplify diverse and unique voices, so applicants can think broadly about their life and experiences as they write. “My winning memoir piece was a very personal one about my cultural identity,” Hayoung said. “I am still extremely grateful to this day for the opportunity to have my voice heard.”
Above all, it’s important to believe in yourself and your voice. “I know everyone applying is probably nervous and unsure,” Olivia said, “But I want you to know I’m proud of you and wishing you all the best!”
The 2021 competition is open now and closes on March 2, 2021. Current high school seniors who attend public schools in the United States and its territories, including the District of Columbia, and are planning to attend college in fall 2021, are eligible and encouraged to apply. For more details and to apply please visit the Penguin Random House website here.
For help in crafting your application, check out these blog posts full of writing resources and more: