Marbella Alberto, Book, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Age 18, Elsik High School, Houston, TX

Marbella Alberto, Book, Drawing & Illustration. Grade 12, Age 18, Elsik High School, Houston, TX

Congratulations to the 2018 Scholastic Awards National Writing Medalists! Gold Key works that advanced to the final round of National Writing Adjudications were evaluated by jurors representing a wide spectrum of literature enthusiasts which included editors, published authors, founders of literary magazines, literary agents, college professors, non-profit executives, award-winning poets, and more. Jurors were asked to identify fresh and relevant works through the lens of three time-tested criteria: originality, technical skill, and personal vision or voice.

What is Originality? Many of the works submitted to the Awards began as classroom assignments. A functional definition of originality is work that goes beyond the classroom assignment and demands its own reason to exist in the world. Works of high originality challenge conventions, blur the boundaries between genres, and shift jurors’ notions of how a particular concept or emotion can be expressed. We encourage our jurors to look for works that surprise them.

What is Technical Skill? Technical skill is judged on how the student uses writing techniques to advance an original perspective or a personal voice. Rather than being evaluated for specific skill proficiencies, students will be evaluated on how they used their skills to create something unique, powerful, and innovative.

What is Personal Vision or Voice? We all know what the personal visions and voices of Awards alumni Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Richard Avedon, and Sylvia Plath looked and sounded like when they became professional artists and writers. But what did their works look and sound like when they were teenagers? This is precisely the question we ask our jurors to consider during the judging process. It’s no coincidence that the Awards have identified some of the most important creative minds of the past nine decades. The Scholastic Awards are in the business of identifying the self-possessed, unique voices and visions of teenage artists and writers.

We asked jurors to provide feedback to share with the Scholastic Awards community. Here is what they offered.


Jurors want to encounter works that are bold and authentic. They encouraged students to take more risks.

“Focus—I really admired the imaginative risks these writers took, but found that they often started strong, but couldn’t continue the momentum/idea all the way to the end. I think sometimes shorter could be better, in order to focus and really develop an idea and voice throughout.”

Moira Bailey

“I encourage students to take risks while speaking their truths. Address the topics that you feel passionate about, and don’t be afraid of showing vulnerability. It makes the work more authentic and powerful.”

Gerald Padilla

“Do less work describing meaningless scenery—trees and weather, hair and eye color, etc.—and more characterizing what people’s personalities are like. Think of your friends and what do they say and do that no one else does? What sets them apart? And write about what interests you, not what you think a story should be about. A story doesn’t have to be about life and death to be a good—forget every horror or superhero movie you’ve ever seen, and consider all the other emotions besides grief and fear. My favorites grappled with love, family, anxiety, depression—things normal people experience, each in their own way.”

Robert Lennon

“I would simply say to writers starting on their journey, read, read, and read until your eyeballs fall out. But to make the work stand out, practice the craft of composition, and edit mercilessly. Good writing, and a well constructive narrative shall always stand out. Oh, and practice using words that might make a reader reach for a dictionary.”

Richard Lopez

Technical Skill

Jurors emphasized the importance of reading to gain exposure to great writing. Many reminded students of the importance of revising and editing their work before submitting it.

“I would suggest that length is not necessarily an asset. I would seek or act as my own critical editor looking for extraneous material and cut as much as possible while ensuring that the purpose is clear. I would focus my energy on how to convey authenticity and voice. A genuine piece written with clear intent is very powerful.”

Louise Dube

“My advice is from the lens of an oral historian who collects oral testimonies for a living: read your stories aloud, have someone else read your story aloud, and then return to the page and revise.”

Mi’Jan Celie Tho-Biaz

“Show don’t tell. The works that stood out to me the most were the ones that approached a subject in an original and distinct way. The works that stood out the least were the ones that made broad generalizations and did not give specific examples.”

Duncan Tonatiuh

“The submissions were all wonderful, and I first want to thank the students for their submissions. The advice I give my students, which I would also give to students preparing to submit to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, is to read as much as you can, and privilege learning and discovery over making judgments about what you read. When reading, be in language the way one is in weather—this allows for more discoveries. Look around. See what the author is doing, is trying to do. Learn from what works best.”

Ocean Vuong

Emergence of a Personal Vision/Voice

Jurors encouraged students to take risks and dig deep to tell their own story and explore unique experiences and observations.

“Settle in. Get centered. Don’t worry about sounding a certain way. Tell YOUR story.”

Barbara Kerley

“The best submissions were the ones that drilled into personal and emotional truths and built out of these clear and affecting moments, scenes, and developed strong characters.”

Manuel Gonzalez

“Originality and creativity are important in all the arts, including writing, but the balance between originality and clarity is delicate, and sometimes writers seemed to sacrifice clear substance in favor of flashy style. Beautiful or thought provoking language is important, but if amid the many unrelated or barely related images I cannot determine what is happening to the characters or what the speaker is trying to communicate, then the piece loses some of its emotional power. This balance between style and substance is, I think, something with which all writers always struggle. My advice is to lean toward clarity over the convoluted. On a different note, several of the pieces I had the honor of reading expressed the authors’ doubts about pursuing careers in writing. They might ask: Is writing an impractical career? and . . . Is it even worth pursuing? I would answer: Yes! and . . . Absolutely yes! I do not exaggerate when I say there was much to admire in every piece I read and so I wish all those writers great success.”

Trent Reedy

“Don’t write something that you think will win a prize—those entries seem to have a sameness about them. Write something that’s deeply, radically true to your experience. Be descriptive, passionate, accurate, and honest about it.”

David van Belle

The Scholastic Awards thank all of the 2018 National Writing Jurors who carved time out of their busy schedules to support creative teens. We hope their advice informs teens on how to improve their creative practice. We look forward to receiving the most stellar submissions yet to the 2019 Scholastic Awards.

Click HERE to learn more about the 2018 National Writing Jurors.

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