What We’re Reading: “The Best Teen Writing of 2019”

Katy Thompson, Children’s Education Associate

When I tell people that I manage the Scholastic Writing Awards for Northeast Indiana and Northwest Ohio, a teen writing competition, their response is always a half-joking “Oh, you must read a lot of angsty poems haha”. And yes, I do. More importantly, however, I read some poignant poems about understanding one’s identity, piercing personal essays about gun violence in schools, and meticulously researched journalism articles that respond to today’s most polarizing issues. With the Internet in their pockets, young adults today are much more in sync with not only themselves but the events affecting their lives and their peers, both near and far.

An anthology published by the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, The Best Teen Writing of 2019 is a collection of literary works, ranging from Poetry and Short Story to Journalism and Critical Essay, which represent the diverse perspectives of writers ages 13-18 throughout the nation. Compiled from amongst the National Medalists, those students who received Gold Key recognition in their respective regions, of which there were 1,200, these works explore themes as diverse as these published writers.

Society tends to underestimate young adults, despite magazines geared toward them like Teen Vogue taking on issues as pertinent as gun violence and sexual harassment. This compilation, however, proves that teens are not only cognizant of the issues surrounding them but more willing to talk about them in a refreshingly personal and authentic voice as compared to previous generations. As Virginia McEnerney, former Executive Director of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, says in her Foreward, “There was a double meaning in every work—a heartbeat of hope that, just by addressing the issues, you are making a contribution toward solving them”; as we’ve learned from history that silence can speak just as loud. Through this creative lens, teens are addressing identity, grief, technology, immigration, LGBTQ rights, privilege, and a rash of other issues society tends to shy away from discussing publicly. In lending their voices, these writers provide targeted and meaningful stories that get us thinking: it’s good to be angry sometimes. Not that the compilation doesn’t include humor and “good stories”, this is, in fact, what makes these writers so exceptional.

They present these large scale issues on a personal level, helping readers to connect with issues that are not their own: they speak to imposter syndrome and the balance of living in two cultures as Asian Americans or Mexican Americans; they highlight the importance of using the correct pronoun and what it’s like to feel like you’re not gay “enough” or Black “enough”; through the words of death, they address survivor’s guilt and a shared birthday with a victim of gun violence they never got to meet. The discussion of race arises in stories about hair, food, and hoop earrings. Journalists speak of DREAMers and technology assisting autistic students while flash fiction and poetry pieces detail the feelings of a first love, hidden in metaphors of fruit and words of self-love. Implementing techniques from repetition and rhyme to first person narration by Death and humorous how-to lists, the glimpse into their world is both a mirror of ours and a window to another. The teenage experience is universal, and this anthology illustrates that by including the words of young adults from across the country, including American students studying internationally.

Two writers from our region, Khira Hickbottom (Homestead High School) and Nathan Phuong (Homestead High School), both American Voices nominees, were included in the anthology. Khira’s piece is a Personal Essay & Memoir that speaks to identity in the form of her hair as a Black woman. A concept many can relate to, she realizes that her self-worth is not defined by the way she styles her hair and outward appearance. Nathan’s Short Story is a historical timepiece, remembering an event in our past and bringing it to life through a harrowing scene. What the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards accomplishes best is providing students an outlet for creativity in which they can also receive recognition for their originality and voice through medals, scholarships, workshops, and publication.

Interested in reading more winners from our region? We also publish books of Gold Key and Silver Key Regional Award recipients which you can purchase at cost from lulu.com. Search #Scholastic2019. You can read the full stories of National Award recipients at artandwriting.org/galleries and see the art winners as well!

Want to join your voice with other young writers? Enter the 2020 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards! Join alumni such as Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Marc Brown, Joyce Carol Oates, and Truman Capote. 

No longer a teen but want to support the talents of young artists and writers? Contact Katy Thompson (Writing) katy.thompson@fwmoa.org and/or Alyssa Dumire (Art) alyssa.dumire@fwmoa.org to be judges!

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