By Elissa Bongiorno
This week, We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House celebrated the 2020 Creative Writing Awards winners with a series of virtual professional development workshops.
“These five talented voices will attend college this fall with $10,000 to help cover the cost of their education,” WNDB Executive Director Nicole Johnson said. “It is our hope that the winners and entrants choose writing or another role in publishing as a long-term career. ”
To help achieve that goal, the students virtually attended two professional development workshops, met one-on-one with editors to discuss their winning submissions, and attended a fireside chat with New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone.
In the “Navigating Networking Early in Your Career” workshop, the 2020 CWA winners learned the ins and outs of growing connections to help develop one’s career. Led by Shania Carroll, human resources assistant, and Annysa Polanco, associate director, Diversity and Inclusion, the students were given an introduction to networking before being divided into small groups to try out their newfound skills.
“Always start with your own personal network. Use your career center at school or alumni from your school, tap into your close friends or family, you never know who they may know. Always think about who you already know and who can help you,” Carroll told the students. Polcano added that students can always reach out to a potential networking connection with an article link or another useful tidbit when requesting a virtual coffee. “Be yourself and have a conversation!” she said.
Later in the week, the students attended a “Careers in the Publishing Industry” round table discussion with Penguin Random House employees including Christine Hung, senior director, Campaigns, Consumer Marketing; Christine Ball, SVP & publisher, Dutton & Berkley; Maya Battle, assistant director, Media Planning; and Mark Tavani, VP and executive editor, PPG; among others. Students learned how each of the PRH employees began their careers, from internships to later-in-life career changes, and heard pointers on breaking into publishing.
“It’s all about meeting people in the industry who will help you,” said Battle. “It’s a lot of rejection. If you keep trying, they’ll take notice that you’re relentless in a really good way. That was my journey.” She added, “not everybody has networks that will get them in the door here. But there are industry newsletters you can follow and other resources that can help you in identifying people who are in leadership, people who do put themselves out there. And I’ve cold called “over email” and asked those people, ‘Hey I’m an intern, what is that you do, what is your advice?’ ” She added, “It can’t hurt to send someone an email. Don’t be shy; you can follow up. Don’t be afraid to knock on someone’s door and be like, ‘Hey, can I ask you a couple of questions?’ ”
The winners also attended a fireside chat with New York Times bestselling author Nic Stone, after receiving advanced copies of Stone’s new book, Dear Justyce, which will be out in September. Stone encouraged the students to embrace the stories they long to tell. “If you want to be an author for a living, go for it. Don’t let anything stop you. Because I started at 28, and I’m not stopping.” She also gave attendees three pieces of advice to get started in a writing career: “Read, write, and eavesdrop.”
Everyone at We Need Diverse Books and Penguin Random House would like to offer congratulations to the five Creative Writing Awards winners. We can’t wait to see what you do next!
The 2020 Creative Writing Awards Winners are:
- Erika Whisnant for Loophole Abuse (Fiction & Drama), Burke Middle College, Morganton, NC
- Ivana Cortez for Planet: Elkhart, Indiana (Personal Essay), Galena Park High School, Galena Park, TX
- Jeffrey Liao for Museum of My Own History, Age Sixteen (Poetry), Livingston High School, Livingston, NJ
- Orlane Devesin for Evolution of the Black Woman (Maya Angelou Award for Spoken Word), Hiram High School, Hiram, GA
- Maya Williams for To My Catcaller (NYC Entrant Award), Edward R. Murrow High School, Brooklyn, NY
For more on the Creative Writing Awards, visit here.
Elissa Bongiorno is a journalist who has been published in USA Weekend, the Baltimore Sun, and DCist, among other publications. As editor of Romantic Times, she interviewed bestselling authors like Suzanne Collins, Beverly Jenkins, and Francine Pascal. Elissa has also written numerous nonfiction titles on topics like state history, job skills, and stem cells. You can find more about her at elissaedits.com.
NICOLE JOHNSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WNDB: On behalf of the team at We Need Diverse Books, I want to congratulate the 2020 Creative Writing Award winners.
MAYA WILLIAMS: Representation in publishing means that I can relate to writers across all genres.
IVANA CORTEZ: Seeing yourself represented on page or on screen, it’s such a huge form of validation that provides this boost of confidence in young readers.
JEFFREY LIAO: It is important to showcase the experiences and identities of people from all cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life.
ERIKA WHISNANT: Knowing that there are other people out there and are shown in media, like books, TV, graphic novels, stuff like that, allows people to understand that they aren’t alone in this world, and that means a lot to me.
ORLANE DEVESIN: Because at the end of the day I believe that we all just want to be viewed as human.
MAYA: This award will affect my life because it motivates me to continue writing about major issues that need to be talked about.
IVANA: I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and the fact that my writing stood out in a crowd means a lot to me.
JEFFREY: Winning this Creative Writing Award has given me the confidence, reassurance, and validation that the work I’m creating is meaningful and important.
ERIKA: Winning an award for creative writing means a lot to me because it helps me understand just how good of a writer I am. There’s — you know — doubt. It will help me go a long way to pay for college, and that is always helpful.
ORLANE: Winning the Creative Writing Awards, what that means for me personally is a confirmation that I didn’t know I still needed. But I’m very grateful that still happened.
MAYA: My piece, “To My Cat Caller,” is about the experiences I’ve had with sexual harassment on the street. I specifically wrote this poem to educate people.
IVANA: The piece that I wrote was a personal narrative about an incident that occurred at my old school, and to be able to write about it was really helpful in coping with that trauma.
JEFFREY: I wrote “Museum of My Own History,” as an ode to the various parts of myself and my identity.
ERIKA: My piece, in simplest terms, it’s about finding a way through a situation that seems impossible and finding yourself through it.
ORLANE: I grew up on princess movies and fairies. And to have, you know, grown up not seeing that representation, I really wanted to honor the Black woman, despite her being bashed from left to right.
IVANA: Thank you again for this opportunity.
ERIKA: I would like to say thank you all and I hope you have a very good day.
ORLANE: Once again, merci!
NICOLE: Again, congratulations to this year’s winners. We can’t wait to see what you accomplish. Thank you.
Produced by Elissa Petruzzi & JoAnn Yao
Edited by Anya Steiner & JoAnn Yao
Graphics by Amber Hooke