The spark of genius, the burst of inspiration…where and how do they begin? This spring we will profile our 2014 Portfolio Gold Award Medalists and let you draw your own conclusions! Without further ado, please meet our inaugural pair: artist Tyra Abraham and writer Jonathan Gelernter.
Tyra Abraham is from New York City and attends high school at the Hewitt School. “The work I submitted for the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards is based on the theme of vulnerability. This project represents my most personal and sentimental work. It also embodies my journalistic approach to taking photographs. I cannot think of another set of images that epitomizes my style of photography, and for this reason, I submitted it for this competition.
For me, photography serves as an outlet for my creativity. I love wandering around New York City and exploring new neighborhoods. At school, I am a photographer for the yearbook and the student newspaper. I take photos of a variety of school events ranging from sports games to concerts to portraits of the faculty and students. My camera is like my personal journal; I carry it almost everywhere and document my surroundings. It’s rare to not see me with a camera hanging around my neck. Photography is deeply personal and can sometimes be more effective than writing.”
Jonathan Gelernter attends ACES Educational Center for the Arts in New Haven, CT. “My goal in writing has been chiefly to entertain, something I think I achieve through humor, but I also have a few things that I try very hard to say. I write a lot about what it’s like to be a Jewish teenager in America, whether dealing with unexpectedly comical sex education classes or dodging drunk drivers out to kill Jews. I have a lot of fun writing to entertain, but writing also helps me to process, catalog, and document the world that I occupy.”
Check out a few excerpts from Jonathan’s portfolio:
Sex Can Be Safe And Fun! (Personal Essay/Memoir)
My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Schwartz, was writing a list of “speaking verbs” on the board to help us, her students, vary our writing. There were probably four columns of neat bubble print on the green chalkboard already—she had started simple with “said” and “told” but had received increasingly elaborate suggestions from the class. “Shouted,” “yelled,” “exclaimed,” “whined,” “yelped,” “explained,” “inquired,” “embellished,” “probed:” it really seemed like she meant to go all day.
“How about you, Lilly?” she asked of the girl sitting next to me. “Bellow,” Lilly said, and Mrs. Schwartz wrote it up on the board.
Mrs. Schwartz was an unusual teacher in my school—she was married, but she didn’t wear the sheitel (ritual wig) that the Chasidic women wore, and she freely employed modern slang in the classroom. She had only just started teaching that year, and would be gone by the next; probably off to a public school where the restrictions were a little more manageable. But for now, she was stuck in a classroom full of Orthodox Jewish kids with long curly sidelocks and skirts that extended down to their ankles.
“And what about you, Jonathan?” she asked me. I had been trying to think of an impressive verb for the past ten minutes, since this exercise had begun, and I was pretty sure I had just the thing.
“Ejaculate,” I said.
A few seconds passed. Mrs. Schwartz turned bright red. The only sound was the raspy wheezing of Adi Klein, who had a notoriously bad windpipe.
Then, from Mrs. Schwartz: “I said speaking verbs, Jonathan.”
I blushed. I was sure I had seen “ejaculate” used as a speaking verb, almost interchangeably with “interject,” but none of my peers seemed to recognize it; so I just said, “Oh, sorry,” and shrank back into my seat. Mrs. Schwartz didn’t write my word up on the board; instead, she suggested that we switch focus to math for the rest of the day, and like the other students, I silently pulled out my math book and set to work.
Cold Turkey (Personal Essay/Memoir)
…“Grandpa just passed out in the bathroom,” she said. While she gave us a few seconds to take this in, I heard my Aunt Trudy screaming “Let me in, he’s my daddy, he loves me!” while she banged on the bathroom door.
“Go out to the end of the driveway and guide the ambulance here,” Mom said. My grandparents’ house is a few hundred feet from the main road.
It was raining that night. We ran out without coats or umbrellas.
I would later discover that at that moment, Dad and Grandma were in the bathroom with Grandpa. Dad was measuring Grandpa’s pulse. He wasn’t letting Aunt Trudy in, as his father was naked from the waist down. Aunt Trudy banged on the door, screaming, which I imagine must have terrified my barely conscious Grandpa. Mom grabbed her and put her in a Full Nelson, dragging her away from the door and pushing her up against the opposite wall.
Standing at the end of the driveway, I felt like I should cry, but I didn’t. When the ambulance arrived, the red and blue lights were so bright they were reflected in each individual raindrop.
I watched Grandpa argue with the EMTs as they forced him into a gurney. “I’m fine, I can stay here,” he said, “I just had too much to eat.” His blood pressure had dropped dangerously low, as he well knew, but he wanted to be home to comfort his family. While the EMTs did their work, Aunt Trudy hissed at my grandmother, “I’m a doctor, too, he can stay here with me. You’re a terrible wife for making him go.” All that night, Grandma sat in the hospital holding Grandpa’s hand. Aunt Trudy, I later learned, called Grandma to scream at her.
As Grandpa was carted away, I watched as he nudged the paramedic a couple of times. Then I heard him say, “Hey, maybe next Thanksgiving I should go cold turkey.”