Cover Image: Gaetano Icangelo. Desk Writer. Grade 12, Age 17. 2012 Silver Medal with Distinction, Art Portfolio.

Originality, technical skill and the emergence of a personal voice: the clear presence of these three elements qualifies student writing for a national medal in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. More than 500 works earned this accolade in the 2012 Awards, and it fell to student editor Haris Durrani to choose about 15% of those to include in The Best Teen Writing of 2012. How did Durrani, who only last year earned a Portfolio Gold Award for his own writing, decide which pieces would make it into print? Here, in this excerpt from his introduction, he explains. You can read more—and see what he selected—when the book comes out this fall!

I’ve always stood by the maxim “Writing is more than words.” It’s not words
themselves but their power that relates the human condition to a universe of

Words can do so by submerging a reader in an experience or provoking
an audience to question assumptions and consider new perspectives. Writing
is about ideas as much as language; literature makes us think. The works in
The Best Teen Writing of 2012 exemplify these tenets and surpass them.
Strong and audacious, these writers have something to say.

When I first dove into the mass of nationally award-winning poems, short
stories, personal essays, and more–more than 500 pieces in total–I expected
sharp and moving prose but was delighted to also find a surplus of works
about identity, philosophy and social change. They humanize persecuted or
forgotten groups by telling their stories, submerging readers in a culture
or the feelings of the oppressed. They push for social justice by provoking
readers, opening them to new, interesting worldviews.

During this age of economic, political and social strife in the U.S. and
abroad, and as the number of ethnic minorities in America increases, it’s
vital that writers do more than write well. Using the power of words, they
must address the problems of our time and their effect on the human
condition. In April 2012, Aditya Chakrabortty of The Guardian noted the
recent void of politically, socially active writers and asked “Why are
English and American novels today so gutless?” But the pages before you
reveal the work of a generation of young writers who are concerned about
today’s problems, whether addressing immigration, identity, civil rights,
the “99 Percent,” the Arab Spring, war, life and death, or science and
technology. It is a true testament to America–a nation of immigrants,
audacity, and ideas–that it has produced this critical, creative generation
that, consciously or not, understands that writing is more than words.

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