Monday, May 23, 2011

Thoughts on being a 2011 Scholastic Arts and Writing Juror

This year, for the second time, I was privileged to be a National Judge for the 2011 Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. I was particularly excited to be a judge in a category that resonated so much with me in both my author and political columnist lives, the new Creativity and Citizenship: Art for Social Change Award.

Here's what the award is about:

From the women's suffrage movement to the civil rights movement to saving the environment, Americans have used the arts to create an awareness of history and promote social change. Teens in grades 7 – 12 are encouraged to submit their works of art and writing that address contemporary social issues important to them. Three winners will be selected to receive $1,000 scholarships and select works will be included in the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Teen Exhibition in June 2011. This special award is presented in collaboration with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

It was such an honor to be a judge for these awards because of the feeling of hope I felt reading these works. They were as diverse in style and subject as the composition of our nation itself. These were not the voices of teens who are only obsessed with celebrity and Jersey Shore and who is going to win American Idol. These writers were keen observers of what is going on in not just in the US but in countries across the globe. Whether they chose poetry, script writing, persuasive essay, personal memoir or fiction, the teenagers in this category were concerned with deep issues of social justice,losing a valued cultural heritage, the mistreatment of women, feeling displaced in one's own neighborhood by gentrification. Their writing made me cry, made me angry, made me want to reach through my computer screen to hug them and tell them "Don't give up! Your words give you a voice, and having a voice gives you power!"

I wanted to tell them that as a columnist, I've learned that when you write about social and political injustice, you will not always be popular. In fact, sometimes you will receive hate mail, letters and emails that make assumptions about you as a person that have absolutely nothing to do with the subject you have tackled in your column. No matter how thick a skin you think you've developed, there are times when it can be pierced - deeply. But remember: these letters mean your words were powerful enough to provoke a reaction. I've learned that the people who agree with you don't always write - but when you bump into them in the supermarket, or at the library, or at school open house night, or on the street, they will thank you for giving them a voice. So don't ever give up. Keep observing, and keep writing. There is so much injustice in the world yet there are unsung heroes in every day life, who work day in and day out without fanfare to try and make the world a better place - you have the gift to put the spotlight on both.

My sincere thanks to the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers for inviting me to be a judge this year.

Today at 12 noon, you're invited to join me and several other national writing Jurors including two of my favorite writing peopleOlugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich and Courtney Sheinmel. Tune in to:

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