WNDB and Penguin Random House are excited to announce the winners of the 2021 Creative Writing Awards!
Four first-place $10,000 scholarship prizes were awarded in the categories of: Fiction & Drama, Poetry, Personal Essay/Memoir, and Spoken Word under the Maya Angelou Award. In recognition of the Creative Writing Awards previously being focused in New York City where Penguin Random House is headquartered, a fifth $10,000 scholarship was awarded to an entrant from the New York City area.
More than 900 students entered the competition this year, which was open to graduating seniors from public high schools nationwide. Students from 48 states and territories and more than 700 high schools, applied— representing all regions of the United States.
The 2021 winners are:
Fiction & Drama: Ally Guo of William Mason High School, Mason, OH, for “Superstition”
Personal Essay/Memoir: Ajok Thon of High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA, for “(Un)erasable Shade”
Poetry: Evelyn Lee of Sam Houston High School, Moss Bluff, LA, for “My Mother Rejected God When She Was 19 But I Don’t Think God Ever Really Got Over It”
Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word: Chloe Cramutola of Absegami High School, Stamford, NJ, for “Why”
NYC Entrant: Tandika Somwaru of Midwood High School, Brooklyn, NY, for “How to Write the Great Guyanese Novel”
In addition, more than 70 honorable mentions were awarded to outstanding entries. These honorees will receive a Penguin Random House “Creativity Kit,” complete with writing resources and books.
Every submission to the competition was given individual consideration via a rigorous scoring process. Judges from We Need Diverse Books included Ellen Oh, WNDB CEO; Caroline Richmond, WNDB Interim Executive Director; Brian Donnell James, United Nations Award-Winning Poet; Kayley To, English as a Second Language Teacher, NYC Department of Education; Susen Shi, Young Adult Librarian, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, NYPL; and a host of other teachers, librarians, and writers.
Penguin Random House judges included: Elliot Figman, Poets & Writers; Audrey Hipkins, Hurston Wright Foundation; Jennifer Benka, Academy of American Poets; Allison Escoto, Center for Fiction. Penguin Random House employees who volunteered to judge the finalists included Tracy Bernstein, Grace Layer, Bobbi Trimble, and Angela Zurlo.
Claire von Schilling, Penguin Random House EVP & Director of Corporate Communications and Social Responsibility, said: “As Penguin Random House, we are dedicated to encouraging the next generation of authors and writers. Young writers are our future, and we are proud to partner with We Need Diverse Books to identify and nurture new literary talent and support these inspiring, emerging voices.”
“The Creative Writing Awards continue to highlight the incredible, diverse voices of high school seniors nationwide,” said Caroline Richmond, Interim Executive Director of WNDB. “The scholarships will provide needed support to the winners as they embark on their college careers, and we look forward to continuing our partnership with PRH on this exciting program.”
The winners are invited to attend a virtual week of professional development with Penguin Random House this summer. The students will meet virtually with publishing professionals, gain insights into the publishing industry, and receive one-on-one coaching from editors. The week will conclude with an online awards ceremony, and a reading of the winners’ work.
We congratulate the winners on their amazing work!