This week, Penguin Random House and WNDB are celebrating the 2021 Creative Writing Award winners. The scholarship recipients will virtually attend a week of events, including professional development workshops and a fireside chat with author Mahogany L. Browne. Below, the five winners share a little about themselves, and their hopes for the future. Congratulations to all!
“Why” (Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word), Absegami High School, Stamford, NJ
Tell us about your piece! My piece, “Why,” isn’t only about racism. It’s about the importance of questioning the things we do: Why can we be so hateful? Why can’t we open our minds? Why do we tend to judge others for their differences? The pandemic, the distrust, the anger, and all that I’ve seen on the news were primary factors that urged me to write this poem. I wanted my piece to encourage awareness, so that we can become more unified and accepting of each other—no matter what you look like, who you are, or where you come from.
What are your plans after high school graduation? I’m going to attend ACCC in New Jersey, then I will be transferring to a university.
Do you know what you’d like to do in your career? I’ll be majoring in communications, so, to be honest, I’m not sure what my path looks like from there. All I know is, I’m going to continue to write and share my voice with whoever is willing to listen. Writing is my passion, and I’d like that to be my full-time career someday.
“Superstition” (Fiction & Drama), William Mason High School, Mason, OH
What does representation in publishing mean to you? When I was younger, I consumed a lot of media that came out of East Asian countries. As a result, although I didn’t really see characters that reminded me of myself in my picture and chapter books, this was offset by the primarily Asian casts I saw in my manga and Chinese mythology storybooks, so I never really felt out of place while reading. It wasn’t until I got older and was exposed to more American/European literature, first through school and then through my own interest, that I started to notice and become bothered by this disparity.
Although Asian characters gradually became more and more present in American media, it always felt off to me that their stories usually specifically centered around being Asian. While I think it’s important to examine cultural heritage, challenges, and experiences, I was living through that in my own life, and sometimes I wanted to read about a Chinese girl without having to question and analyze what it felt like to be a Chinese girl. I think that’s why I gravitated toward series like Percy Jackson/Heroes of Olympus when I was in elementary school; they never made a big deal about being Asian, or coming from any other background. It was just some awesome kids doing awesome things—and all of them were equally awesome.
Tell us about your piece! “Superstition” is a fantasy short story following a paranormal investigator named Lilith Xu as she’s hired to resolve occult disturbances in an eerie, remote town called Erlheim. Along the way, she feels deeply unsettled by both her current situation and the insecurities that have plagued her since childhood.
Where are you going to college? The University of Southern California.
“My Mother Rejected God When She Was 19 But I Don’t Think God Ever Really Got Over It” (Poetry), Sam Houston High School, Moss Bluff, LA
What does winning a Creative Writing Award mean to you? Winning this creative writing award adds ease to paying for college. Additionally, winning this creative writing award reaffirms my decision to study creative writing in college.
Tell us about your piece! My poem is called “My Mother Rejected God When She Was 19 But I Don’t Think God Ever Really Got Over It.” As the title implies, it is about my mom’s rejection of religion and my atheist upbringing, specifically in Lynchburg, VA. In this poem, I personify God into a man trying to win back my mom’s favor after she rejects him. Although the poem is deeply metaphorical, it is based on snippets of real experiences, including watching televangelists on TV, living behind the Jerry Falwell Church, and my experience of being gifted a children’s bible in an attempt to convert me.
Where are you going to college? I am attending the University of New Orleans in the fall for a major in English with a concentration in Creative Writing.
“How to Write the Great Guyanese Novel” (NYC Entrant), of Midwood High School, Brooklyn, NY
What does winning a Creative Writing Award mean to you? Winning a Creative Writing Award played a significant role in how I see myself. I’ve always been insecure about my writing simply because I’ve always felt that I wasn’t good enough to be a writer. I thought that my imperfections would somehow equate to having poor writing skills and creating content that no one would be interested in. However, after seeing that I was selected as one of the winners, I realized that I am capable and that I can do anything I set out to do.
What are your plans after high school graduation? In the fall I will be attending Siena College.
Do you know what you’d like to do in your career? I am interested in a career in the medical field, specifically as an obstetrician/gynecologist. However, I will not give up writing. It’s something that I am passionate about. Thus, it will remain a hobby of mine in hopes that I will publish a novel in the future.
“(Un)erasable Shade” (Personal Essay/Memoir), High Tech High Media Arts, San Diego, CA
Where are you going to college? I will be attending New York University (NYU) this fall!
Do you know what you’d like to do for your career? I’ve always been drawn to STEM so as of now I’m hoping to become a physician and assist my home country South Sudan but I would also like to see myself working with the UN someday!
Give us your best piece of advice. One piece of advice I would like to share is: Do not be afraid to step outside of your box. Nothing can truly grow in comfort. I feel like we were taught to believe that hardship, failure, and rejection is where our story ends but it’s really where it begins. With the right tools, we can come out of the other end stronger and wiser. So don’t be afraid to dream big!
Stay tuned for details on the 2022 Creative Writing Awards, submissions will be opening this fall. 2021-2022 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 2022, are eligible and encouraged to apply. For more details and to apply please check back here, or visit the Penguin Random House website.