Meet the writers, artists who won national awards

Nicole Pellaton

Seven excel in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, including an American Voices medalist and five gold winners.

April 9, 2018
This World in a Nutshell by Wendi Yan
"This World in a Nutshell" by Wendi Yan won gold at the 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards (see the complete piece below).

The 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing gold medal winners take us from a packed subway in Beijing to a swimming pool in Nashua, New Hampshire; from a postmodern retelling of the Vietnamese creation myth to the fatigued hands of a piano player.

Here’s a glimpse of this year’s slate of Exonian gold winners.

Isabella Alvarez ’19 writes about identity in “Hereditary,” which received gold in the personal essay & memoir category and also won an American Voices Medal, the highest regional honor presented by Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

“I created ‘Hereditary’ as one of my first pieces for Mr. Perdomo's English class,” she explains in an email. “The process of writing it was incredibly restorative, as I got to piece together all the ‘back stories’ of my life, paying homage to both the beautiful and ugly aspects of heritage, love, mental and physical illness, immigration, religion — every piece of unique culture that I carry with me.”

Alvarez adds: "Knowing that a very prestigious contest — one that recognized my favorite writer of all time, Sylvia Plath — enjoyed my work enough to present me with these great awards is incredibly thrilling and has encouraged me to continue with creative writing and perhaps pursue it even beyond high school.”

Alvarez also won silver for another personal essay.

I got to piece together all the ‘back stories’ of my life, paying homage to both the beautiful and ugly aspects of heritage, love, mental and physical illness, immigration, religion." — Isabella Alvarez

Rajrishi Das ’19 writes about his experiences growing up in Nashua, New Hampshire, in a neighborhood rife with racial tension. In his gold-winning “A Letter Home,” he writes to his future self, as if in a time capsule, and decries the death of the part of him that “could trust white people without hesitation.” Das also won silver for a second work in the personal essay & memoir category titled “the day I learned to drown.”

Mai Hoang ’20 received two gold awards, one for her poem “Thus is born the children of the red river,” and a second for a journalism entry: “Documenting Queer Kids: A Photographer’s Journey.” Hoang, who is a columnist for The Exonian, likes all types of writing (including history papers, she says) and is eager to continue broadening her writing experience this summer.

I wanted to exaggerate this absurdity and lean into the grotesque by depicting the myth in a ‘real’ way.” — Mai Hoang

“This poem just fell into place, it's one of the rare ones that I wrote in one sitting,” she writes in an email. “I was thinking about creation myths and how they're so deeply woven into the national consciousness (at least for Vietnam) through narratives, folk songs, literary references, etc. But when you take them out of context they seem absurd at best. I wanted to exaggerate this absurdity and lean into the grotesque by depicting the myth in a ‘real’ way.”

Her enthusiasm and astonishing facility – she only started studying English language literature when she came to Exeter from her native Vietnam – shine through. Hoang, who garnered silver medals for another piece of journalism and a critical essay, says that the Scholastic prizes help her fight off moments of self-doubt about her writing.

Jenny Yang ’19 is the author of “Piano,” a poetic lament on a young life too focused on playing piano. In the poem, Yang writes:

It’s a world I can’t
escape, live without, lose;
my legs straddling
real life and music,

“I found that I was really passionate about the topic,” says this upper from California who started the poem in English class. “Piano” remained incomplete at the end of the term, so she continued to work on it during the summer. “This poem touched me deeply because it explores my relationship with piano, which played a major role in my childhood and still continues to affect me. I also really enjoyed the unique amalgamation of imagery, imagination and sound.”

Yang, who is also very interested in STEM, was unsure how her writing would compare to other entries. “The recognition by judges definitely gave me more confidence in my writing and abilities,” she says.

Wendi Yan ’18, the only senior and the only visual artist among Exeter’s gold winners, submitted a large mixed media work (charcoal and watercolor) depicting hands clutching rails during the subway rush hour of her native Beijing. “Hundreds of bodies jammed into the carriages sway, collide, rub against each other as the subway travels. I see this imagery as a perfect metaphor for life,” Yan writes about her piece titled “This World in a Nutshell.” 

Additional Awards

Upper Andrew Dawe won silver for a poem titled “Trump vs. Kaepernick.” Senior Ivy Tran won two silvers for “Threadbare,” a mixed media work, and her painting “Plastic Silver.”


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