After a long day at school, most students come home ready to work while yearning for sleep. Some, though, come home eager to work on their craft. The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are a way for those few to be celebrated. This year, Stuyvesant students won 69 awards for writing. Out of these awards, 18 gold keys were given to the outstanding pieces of writing. Some of the Gold-Key-winning works of writing are featured here.
Matteo Wong: Speechless (Personal Essay & Memoir)
Junior Matteo Wong’s personal essay, “Speechless,” is about his identity as a half-Chinese and half-Italian living in the United States. The essay started out as an assignment for Mr. Garfinkel’s Contemporaries and Classics class, but Wong modified it for his submission. Through this piece, he explores the confusion that comes with not knowing which category to fit into, “thinking about [his] past to try and understand what [his] identity is and how it has been shaped over time,” he said. In writing this piece, he learned a lot about himself and what his background means to him.
One winter in second grade, nai nai and gong gong visited us. As they stepped through the door to leave, my father gave me a quick glance, raising his eyebrows and nudging his head toward my Chinese grandparents. But there was nothing for me to do; I had no words for goodbye. I edged forward to hug them, trying to overcome the thick, muggy awkwardness hanging in the air. As my arms went around nai nai’s fuzzy, wool sweater, she looked down and said, in broken English, “Matteo, why don’t you speak Chinese?” We took turns shaking our heads. My short brown hair made slow, long waves of denial, as my eyes drooped to the floor; her dyed, black hair shook in small, rigid motions as her eyebrows arched together.
Rahat Huda: All Kinds of Kinds (Personal Essay & Memoir)
Senior Rahat Huda’s personal essay, “All Kinds of Kinds,” has taken many forms. From starting off as a final assignment for Ms. Dwyer’s Defining American Voices class, to becoming her college essay, and finally to becoming a Scholastic submission, it has changed immensely over the course of a few months. It is about her “relationship with [her] family, [her] culture, the characters [she reads,] and the ones [she writes].” Huda writes about how her view on characters she once hated for their recklessness has changed to envy and how she desires “to be free and unpredictable, but ‘post-9/11 America doesn’t have much sympathy for a wanderlust brown hijabi.’”
You start writing more your sophomore year. Your characters remind you of the ones you used to hate. Flawed, human, more similar to you than you’d like to admit. You realize that you don’t hate those characters from the books you used to read. You envy them. You want to screw up as easily as they do. You crave that kind of freedom and become restless. You’re tired of your family talking about your future in terms of salaries. Your mom tells you that you might as well give up on your education if you want to be a teacher, as if educating doesn’t require education.
Nicole Wong: Hands of Lavender (Short Story)
Senior Nicole Wong’s short story, “Hands of Lavender,” is about the pain of forgetting as we age, highlighting the fragments of emotion and memory that seem to remain. The story follows an old woman and a mysterious character who is reminiscent of her lost lover. Inspired by Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse,” Wong uses a lyrical style and “inward action,” which emphasizes emotions and thoughts over actions. This piece is particularly special for Wong because it is one of the few she has ever finished. She wrote it in fragments on the subway, jotting down ideas whenever they came to her. Not only was the piece successful, but reading it brought her father, who usually just corrects her grammar, close to tears.
He saw her eyes dim. She must have been close, he thought, to remembering her husband’s face. She spoke of him often and always with a faraway gaze. Does it hurt, he wondered, to love someone so far away? Was devotion like this beautiful or tragic? Clarence looked down at his hand on hers. His hand was weightless, he knew. But were it not, she still would not have felt its weight. She was too far away. Distance was never tangible, not even in thought. Like those dunes in the distance, framed by ever-changing waters. Devotion was like those dunes. Unchanging even when the waters of memory wavered and withdrew into some deeper, unreachable space. But those waters were beautiful. There was always something beautiful in sadness, or perhaps sad in beauty.
Conrad Walden: Ode to Nocturnes, Motion (Poetry)
Junior Conrad Walden’s collection of poems is about seeing the beautiful, bittersweet, things in life despite the difficulties it may have. Each poem is written to or about a person whom he wishes he were closer to. Spurred by Dr. Moore’s poetry class, they were written at a particularly low point in his life. Walden says that “they really demonstrate what [he’s] like when [he’s] in such a bad state” because they’re raw and real. Dr. Moore’s class brought him back on his feet as a poet, and winning a Gold Key furthers that even more, giving him a feeling of validation and even more of an excuse to write.
You listened when noise compounded and i freaked out,
when I was drunk off my ass and
making new ones, shouting “i’m sorry” at nobody
in particular but particularly the yellowed ceiling
on which someone was playing guitar and recording wind noises horse laughter
You listened when i got tinnitus from all the
silence and from sickness when the
water Cancer became obvious feedback
microphone held reverse octaves ocean
Emily Xu: Roots, if i met you for lunch at george’s diner, Short-Lived, (do they ever stop?) (Poetry)
Sophomore Emily Xu’s collection of poems is about the craziness and danger of love. Her favorite of the collection is “(do they ever stop?).” It is a short piece that “embodies the loneliness and endless frustrations of being obsessed with the idea of a person, rather than the person himself,” she said. She wrote her poems over the summer, when she missed a boy with whom her friendship was falling apart. Writing them at night, right before falling asleep, allowed her to write things that she really meant. It made her poetry feel more real, which she craved and finally accomplished.
(do they ever stop?)
the cherry blossom tree in the
backyard looks lonely. nobody
breathes life into it anymore.
but it looks
at 2 a.m. i can’t stop releasing you onto
paper. you are creating ink clots in my blood.
does your wrist hurt like mine?
does your heart hurt like mine?
Anne Chen: My Life as a Girl (Personal Essay & Memoir)
Junior Anne Chen’s personal essay, “My Life as a Girl,” is about female empowerment, recounting experiences in which Chen felt that being a girl restricted her. It is a response to “Your Life as a Girl” by Curtis Sittenfeld and more directly a response to the lack of support she saw for the author and her message when the work was discussed in Chen’s English class. She wrote it in smaller segments, while walking to school or on the train home, later pulling the important pieces together into a story. She describes it as “raw, ugly, and uncensored, but it [is her,] and [she thinks] that’s the most beautiful thing about writing.”
“I like your socks,” says a distinctive male voice. The car stays stationed next to you, its window shade rolled down.
You smile, because you like them too. The frilly tops accentuate your pale thighs. You feel like Snow White. You were Snow White for Literacy Day in 1st grade.
You look up earnestly. He’s smiling. There it is: his pearly whites. But your heart can’t help sinking. His eyes. They are cold, almost reptilian. They scope your pudgy thighs and the soft globes of your breasts. It hits you all at once, a flat thump to your chest. That thing that chilled you to the bone? It didn’t disappear after all. It’s laughing gleefully right in front of you.
Zora Arum: My Zafa (Personal Essay & Memoir)
Senior Zora Arum’s personal essay, “My Zafa,” is about her relationship with Judaism. It recounts different “Jewish” experiences that she’s had, primarily family-oriented ones. Arum explores her complicated relationship with her religion, finding a way to express it that feels comfortable and allows her to include both her personal beliefs and those of Judaism. She struggles to balance her “craving for religious community and a strong, consistent, belief system with [her] doubts about committing [herself] to a religion that does not entirely promote [her] values.” Aside from the fact that the piece is so meaningful to her, it is also special in that she doesn’t know how she won the award—she didn’t submit the piece herself, and isn’t sure who did.
And, suddenly, I am inexplicably furious at the thought of my grandmother praying—she, who has lost everything, who has lost her eldest son. She, who recites the Kiddush and the Hamotzi before eating and drinking on Shabbas every Friday night, who keeps the laws of Kashrut and feels a moral obligation to observe Tzedakah, that she, who has been a good Jew—a mentsh—her entire life, should stand there, barely balancing upright, praying to an Adonai who is clearly not listening, seems like an oversight on someone’s part. She doesn’t deserve this. We don’t deserve this.
And then she becomes very still again, and she lights a match.
She turns and looks at me, tears drying on her wrinkled cheeks. “Come,” she says, and now it’s an order. I hesitate. “We can’t choose what we’re given,” she says, her voice clear. “But we can choose how we adapt.”
Sonia Epstein: A Different Kind of Heroine (Critical Essay)
Senior Sonia Epstein’s analytical piece, “A Different Kind of Heroine,” started off as an assignment for Mr. Garfinkel’s AP Contemporaries and Classics class. It was a response to an analysis of “Washington Square” by Henry James, based off of a critical review of the book, written by a R. H. Hullen. Her argument against the “snooty 19th century critic,” who found the main character to not be a heroine was that someone does not have to be brash and confrontational to be qualified as a heroine.
Catherine chooses to take a middle ground. She feels immense loyalty to her father and her lover and will not throw away either relationship. “She’s going to stick, by Jove! She’s going to stick!” her father remarks in astonishment. He does not mean that she will stick to one side: he means that she will stick in refusing to choose one. Catherine does not become a strong character by virtue of rebellion; rather her strength lies in her unwavering loyalty to both of her loves, a loyalty that impels her to rebuff all criticism by either against the other.
Charlie Reeder: September 1, 1999 (Short Story)
Junior Charlie Reeder’s short story, “September 1, 1999,” started as a writing exercise in which she had to write about an emotion and an action, which were doubtfulness and cooking. It explores the complex relationship between a daughter and her mother. Emily and her single mother live in a townhouse off the side of a highway with her “pet” cat. Emily goes through her daily life with extreme precision in order to avoid making the same mistakes as her mother. Writing on summer afternoons, Charlie no longer had writer’s block, a first since the beginning of highschool.
Step 3. Add a pinch of salt:
A pinch of salt? So apparently it is my responsibility to determine the size of a pinch.
Mom always says “whenever you feel lost you should follow your heart”… whatever that’s supposed to mean. I’d rather follow google than my heart but Mom says that using my computer is strictly prohibited during this exercise. In the spirit of “trying new things” I decide to pick individual grains of kosher salt and drop each one into the bowl of ingredients. As I do so I will wait for my heart to send me a sign that it is time to stop.
Jane Rhee: The Right to Write (Critical Essay)
Jane Rhee’s critical essay, “The Right to Write,” was originally published as an Opinions article in The Spectator. It explores cultural appropriation in literature, which is when authors write about cultures other than their own. Rhee argues that “writing about another culture isn’t tantamount to thievery as long as the author feels an emotional connection to what they are writing and puts in the effort to make sure they are fairly representing the culture that they’re describing.” This might seem obvious, but it’s hard to achieve, especially when attempting to represent a culture that one has no experience in. This article is special for Rhee because it’s more controversial than anything she’s ever written before. She made a note of not toning down her own opinion for the sake of appeasing her audience, but also made sure she did not come off as a promoter of cultural appropriation.
Those who strongly oppose cultural appropriation claim that when it comes to history, and especially fiction, authors “steal” another culture as their own. But writing shouldn’t be considered thievery; it should be a medium through which the experiences of underrepresented cultures can be carefully explored. While in the short run, preventing authors from writing about things that they have not experienced may seem like just a fight against cultural appropriation, in the long run, it will only further perpetuate divides between people.
Sophie Watwood: Minutes (Short Story)
Sophomore Sophie Watwood’s short story, “Minutes,” tackles mental illness and suicide. It was inspired by a joke that her friends often make: if one of them were standing on the edge of a building, they’d tell that person to do a backflip. Watwood chose to take this joke and look at it more seriously. Her story is written in 3rd person, which kept a lot of her usual humor out of the piece. She also chose to start every paragraph with a timestamp, adding to the gravity of the piece.
It is 6:08 AM. A fifteen-year old girl walks the promenade towards the Brooklyn bridge, wearing wrinkled jeans and a hoodie, an achromatic apparition drifting through the park. The grey hood drapes over her platinum hair, shading her face. There are circles underneath her eyes the color of her dirt-caked converse shoes. Her breath smells like coffee. Everything around her smells like trees. She is not wearing makeup, but there are black smudges on her eyelids and on her left cheek.
Other Gold Key Recipients:
Winkie Ma: Take a Jacket (Poetry)
Maya Mitrasinovic: Friday Nights (Poetry) and Sober Friend (Poetry)
Julian Rubinfien: Asymptote (Personal Essay & Memoir)
Anton Solodkov: The Rott Boys (Flash Fiction)
Donia Tung: Moving Days (Personal Essay & Memoir)