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Write on: La Jolla students win national writing medals

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Five La Jolla students won national gold and silver medals in the 2022 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards for grades 7-12.

Madeline Sornson, an incoming sophomore at La Jolla High School, won a gold medal for her short play.
(Courtesy of Mark Sornson)

Madeline Sornson, 15, won gold in the dramatic script category for her short play “Thrift Store Books,” which she said is about “two books in a thrift store [that] both want to be purchased so they can experience being read … again.”

Madeline, an incoming sophomore at La Jolla High School, said she was inspired by her own desire to read a book she had just acquired. “It just kept going from there.”

She’d been looking for a writing contest to enter, and winning a gold medal was “really exciting” since she had never entered a play in a contest before.

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards held a ceremony for gold medalists June 9 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Madeline was the only La Jolla student who attended and said the trip was fun and exciting.

Madeline likes to write fantasy books and said she hopes to make her authorship a career.

Eli Browne, an incoming senior at The Bishop’s School, won a gold medal for his piece "Del Mar, Disappearing."
(Courtesy of Eli Browne)

Eli Browne, 17, an incoming senior at The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, won a gold medal for his personal essay and memoir titled “Del Mar, Disappearing.”

Eli, who lives in Del Mar, said the memoir is about “the impact of global warming in my own community.” The piece originated as a school assignment in response to Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse.”

In Woolf’s 1927 novel, “there’s a recurring motif of the ocean as a very destructive force,” Eli said. “But there were some personal narrative elements to that piece that I had liked. So I took them out and restructured them into a series of four or five little stories … of my community, reflecting on how climate change and local policy are woven together right now and what the outlook is for Del Mar in the future.”

Eli entered the writing competition on a last-minute whim.

“I’m really happy with the result because I did not expect this to happen,” he said. “It’s really nice to see the work I did get recognized. … It’s kind of like closure to an idea that had been bouncing around my head.”

Annie Fang, who graduated from Bishop’s this month, won a gold medal for her piece “A Torn Catalogue” but could not be reached for an interview.

Emma Hong, a recent graduate of The Bishop’s School, won a silver medal for her personal narrative piece.
(Courtesy of Emma Hong)

Emma Hong, 17, also a recent graduate of Bishop’s, won a silver medal for her personal narrative piece “The Moon, Watching and Watching,” which she said is about her family and Chinese culture.

The work discusses “the misunderstandings between my [Chinese-born] parents and me and our differences in Western raising and their Chinese values and the tension between those,” Emma said.

She said she has entered the contest annually for four years and this is her first medal.

“Writing is tough to get awards for because it’s so subjective,” Emma said. “I was just happy to get a medal because it meant I connected to the readers and made them feel something.”

Kasie Leung, 16, an incoming senior at The Bishop’s School, won a silver medal for her short story.
(Courtesy of Kasie Leung)

Kasie Leung, 16, an incoming senior at Bishop’s, won silver for her short story “To Smother a Fire,” about a woman who immigrates to America from Hong Kong.

The story details lessons from the woman’s mother and the rift between them “until they both see the consequences of the advice they’re giving and ultimately connect over it,” Kasie said.

Kasie said she related to the experiences of Asian women in the book “The Joy Luck Club,” as she is of Cantonese descent, though her winning story is not autobiographical.

“I was just inspired by the way that intergenerational messages can be passed on, and sometimes not to everyone’s benefit,” she said.

Kasie said she entered 14 pieces in the writing contest to see what kinds of works might win.

“Writing contests are very subjective things,” she said. “I try not to hinge my entire self-worth on them, but it’s interesting to see what really resonates with judges.”

Of the 14 pieces she entered, 10 won regional awards earlier this year.

Winning a medal for “To Smother a Fire” surprised her, she said, as she felt others she wrote were more compelling.

“I think this piece has a very simple emotional message that resonated with a lot of people,” Kasie said. She added that the contest might have placed an emphasis on cultural narrative.

Though she tried “to do my best to [write] an accurate portrayal of my culture ... I never really know … what I’m misrepresenting,” Kasie said. “As the daughter of an immigrant woman, I can’t speak exactly on her experience.”

“It’s always nice to get outside your own head,” she added, “and see what other people think of your work and then modulate your opinions based on that.”

However, she also advised others to “never lose faith in yourself even though something is reacted to poorly.” ◆