Brookline teenager wins first prize at Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
Judges of the 2021 National Scholastic Art and Writing Prizes awarded Xu a gold medal, the competition’s highest honor, for his 3,000-word short story.
Xu, a rising junior at Winsor School in Boston, wrote the story over a month in the fall of 2020. In âBoston at 3:26 PM,â the main character, Emily, wins a lottery to visit any outdoor location. that she wishes for a day. She is allowed to bring a companion through the use of “transmission glasses”, which allow a distant person to access all of their sensory experiences. Emily, a student in San Francisco, chooses to go to Boston and bring her mother, who has contracted the insurmountable virus, through the glasses.
âI knew I wanted to write about the pandemic,â Xu said in an interview. âI felt a lot of isolation and uncertainty, as I’m sure everyone else did. So I really wanted to write an article that channels those emotions, butâ¦ I tried to add a touch of hope and optimism at the end.
Xu has competed in the Scholastic Awards since she was in seventh grade, but this is the first time she has won the top prize. âIt was the first time that I thought of myself as a creative writer or that I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this is something I could do,'” said the teenager from Brookline. âScolastic has definitely catalyzed my passion. “
Xu’s love for science fiction literature, like Ray Bradbury’s short stories, inspired her to write her own. “My forties struck me as very dystopian,” she said. “It just felt a bit like science fiction to me, and I wanted to magnify those things that I noticed.”
The mother-daughter relationship at the heart of the story, Xu said, was inspired by her relationship with her own mother. The story went through several drafts, which she showed mainly to her mother, before arriving at the final product.
âI really wanted to explore how, while the pandemic was isolating itself, it also kind of brought people together,â she said. âMe and my mother are very close, but before the pandemic we never really had time to talk in depth about things. But during quarantine, we were stuck at home together, and I feel like I really got to know her better. “
After winning the Regional Gold Key for the Massachusetts area, Xu’s story was judged in the National Awards. On the day the winners were announced in March, she had to keep refreshing her computer – with her mom next to her – to get her results. âIt was pretty surreal. I really didn’t expect it,â she recalls.
Xu, alongside his zeal for creative writing, co-founded AA Tutoring, a student-run organization that donates all of its profits to the Massachusetts General Hospital Emergency Response Fund, and does a summer internship at the Drift (less) Literary agency.
âWriting is something I want to do for the rest of my life,â Xu said. âI recently became interested in physics and astrophysics. So, I feel like in college, I want to try to tie them together and maybe try writing some sci-fi, or something like that.
The annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, founded in 1923, awarded prizes to writers like Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, and Amanda Gorman. Nominations are judged on originality, technical skill, and âemergence of a personal voice or vision,â according to the awards website.
Boston student Leilingxuan Xu, a recent graduate of Boston Trinity Academy, won a gold medal for his work “The Okra”. Five other Boston students won silver medals.
Dana Gerber can be reached at [email protected]