Sarah Darer Littman

This year, for the second time, I was privileged to be a National Judge for the 2011 Scholastic Arts & 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 Creativity & Citizenship Award, which this year focused on Art for Social Change.

Here’s what the award was 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 were encouraged to submit their works of art and writing that addressed contemporary social issues important to them. Three winners were selected to receive $1,000 scholarships and select works were included in the ART.WRITE.NOW. National Exhibition at the World Financial Center in lower Manhattan this June. This special award was presented in collaboration with the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia.

It was such an honor to be a judge for this special award because of the feeling of hope I felt reading the 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 U.S. but in countries across the globe. Whether they chose poetry, dramatic script, persuasive essay, memoir or fiction, the teenagers who submitted for this award 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 everyday 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 & Writers for inviting me to be a judge this year.

Sarah Darer Littman, writer, mother, and unpaid chauffeur, is a living example of the cliche, “Life Begins at 40.” After spending much of her adult life doing things she didn’t really plan to, including such diverse occupations as financial analyst and farmer’s wife, she at long last found her true calling as a writer. Her first novel, Confessions of a Closet Catholic, won the 2006 Sydney Taylor Book Award for Older Readers. Her novel Life, After was a 2011 Sydney Taylor Honor Book and won 1st prize for YA fiction in the CT Press Club annual awards. She is also the author of Purge, named one of Bank Street College of Education’s 2010 Best Books of the Year and the upcoming Want to go Private? In addition to writing for teens, Sarah is an award-winning columnist for Hearst Newspapers (CT) and CTNewsJunkie.com.

Sarah lives in Cos Cob, CT, with her family. Visit her online at http://sarahdarerlittman.com, http://wanttogoprivate.com and on twitter @sarahdarerlitt

This post originally appeared on Sarah’s blog on May 13, 2011

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