On Tuesday, Jan. 30, sophomore Juanita Asapokhai won a Silver Key in the Scholastic Art and Writing Competition for her sophisticated short story “Pájaros.”
Juanita’s story is centered around the relationship between two boys. “It is about these two boys that are friends and one of their mothers dies in the beginning, and the entire short story revolves around retaliation,” she said. Juanita decided to enter her first completed short story titled “Pájaros,” which means bird in Spanish, for a few reasons.
“This was the piece I was most proud of at the time. I had been writing a lot at that period of time, and I put the most work and intentionality into this piece,” Juanita said. She was also very happy with the figurative language she used in this specific story.
“I also liked the metaphor of birds I used in depicting the theme of retaliation,” she said. Juanita enjoys writing in general and originally began this piece for pleasure. “I wrote this piece for fun,” she said, “and I showed it to Mrs. Kasprak and Ms. Schieffelin and my sister who is an excellent judge of literature.”
Upper School English teacher Catherine Schieffelin said that when she read over Juanita’s writing there were very minor errors because Juanita is already a good editor of her own work. “Juanita is such an intense critic of her own writing and revises her work with such a careful eye,” Ms. Schieffelin said.
Juanita wrote this piece over a few months. “I actually wrote the beginning of it much before I finished it. I started it in April and finished in October and edited it in December,” she said.
Juanita said that at the time she wanted to start entering some writing competitions, so she shared a few stories with Ms. Schieffelin for some feedback. “Originally, this was back in October, she sent me a doc that was 20 pages long, so she just had so much writing that she needed help focusing on one story,” Ms. Schieffelin said.
Juanita saw a poster outside of Upper School English teacher Heidi Hojnicki’s room for this Scholastic competition and decided to enter. “One of my New Year’s resolutions for 2017 was to get serious about my writing and start to share it with a larger audience,” Juanita said.
The Scholastic competition has judges who read each piece looking for specific qualities and then awards the deserving writers. “Basically the judges will assess the the level of the work. They look for originality and a defined voice and other things like that,” Juanita said. Juanita explained that there are various awards that the judges give out. “There are three different awards: the honorable mention, silver key, and the gold key,” she said.
“The honorable mention is just acknowledging the fact that your work had literary merit,” she said. Juanita won the Silver Key award for her piece. “The Silver Key is the intermediate award and it’s specific to a region,” she said. The hardest award to receive is the Gold Key. “The Gold Key is the highest regional award you can get, and you advance to national judging with this award,” she said. There were many different categories of writing in this competition which writers could enter their work into. There was critical essay, dramatic script, flash fiction, humor, journalism, novel writing, personal essay and memoir, poetry, science fiction and fantasy, short story and writing portfolio.
“From the Gold Key pool, they will select the national winner for each category,” Juanita said. Juanita’s classmates were impressed by this accomplishment, but not surprised because of her great talent. “I would be surprised if she didn’t win,” sophomore Mike Doyle said.
Juanita is planning on attending a selective writing conference from May 17 to 20 in Vermont. “I submitted a one page short story and was accepted into Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Young Writers’ Conference,” she said.Ms. Schieffelin said that this writers’ conference is pretty highly selective, and it is based off of another writers’ conference hosted by Bread Loaf which is for professional adult writers. At the conference, students will be able to individually workshop their own writing with other students and authors.
“You are supposed to bring writing with you that you want to get workshopped,” Ms. Schieffelin said. Ms. Schieffelin has never been to the conference but she did inform Juanita about it and a few other students in the past. “I have never attended as chaperone or anything, but I have had students go. I think the last time a student went was over five years ago,” she said.
Juanita is a very strong writer all around, and last year she was one of the recipients of the Gwendolyn Brooks poetry awards. “I am just really impressed with how accomplished she is in different forms,” Ms. Schieffelin said. “Last year I saw some of her poetry, and she played a lot with style and form. This year it seems she was submitting more to short fiction contests, so it was nice to see her writing short fiction and see her experimenting with new styles and voice,” she said.