‘The power of language’: In under 100 words, La Jolla student places high in international writing contest

La Jolla Country Day sophomore Victoria Huang is a runner-up in The New York Times' 100-Word Personal Narrative Contest.
La Jolla Country Day School sophomore Victoria Huang is a runner-up in The New York Times’ 100-Word Personal Narrative Contest.
(Carla Seidlinger)

Victoria Huang’s short story earns her a runner-up nod out of 12,448 submissions in The New York Times’ 100-Word Personal Narrative Contest.


Condensing an experience into 100 words is difficult, Victoria Huang says. Nonetheless, the sophomore at La Jolla Country Day School was selected to be among the runners-up out of 12,448 submissions in The New York Times’ 100-Word Personal Narrative Contest.

Victoria, 15, responded to a call for students ages 13-19 from all over the world to write a short true story about a meaningful experience in their lives.

The contest judges selected 13 winners, 23 runners-up and 46 honorable mentions.

In previous years, there was a 600-word limit, Victoria said. “That’s a lot easier than just the 100 words.”

After wondering how to convey a moment with such brevity, Victoria chose a vignette from a birthday dinner.

“I think about that moment a lot. And I just wrote it down on a piece of paper and just started cutting words, making it better,” she said.

Her 97-word narrative is called “Flawless”:

“Beel? Bil? Beel,” Dad said, his tongue hitting the back of his teeth, trying to form the tones of the “i.” “The bill please,” I added. “Ohhh, the bill, yes, of course.” The waiter walked away, his smock flapping against his slacks. Dad turned to me and asked, “Why can’t he understand me? You can understand me, right? Do I have an accent?” My dad who read me Chinese folktales, who made me love writing, who taught me perfect English grammar, smiled sadly. How could I show him that he wasn’t flawed? “I understand you perfectly, Dad.”

Victoria said her father, Eric, is an immigrant from China with a Ph.D. in chemistry. She can’t imagine “anybody thinking that what he does is not enough,” she said. “He’s genuinely one of the smartest people I know. I can’t imagine that people might think [others] with perfect English might be smarter than him.”

Victoria Huang often writes about her father, Eric.
(Provided by Victoria Huang)

Victoria, a first-generation American, said she remembers her father telling her “you have to be good at the language in the country you’re in because then you get respect and it’s easier to make connections [and] communicate with people. Because life is all about connections.”

“I have always been fascinated by the power of language,” said Victoria, an avid reader who didn’t become serious about writing until a few years ago.

“I actually hated to write before seventh grade,” she said. “I was really, really bad at it.”

After a teacher inspired her, Victoria began writing daily, at first fiction and later personal narratives.

“Now I write a lot about myself and my family and family dynamics in general,” she said. “Those are the experiences I feel like I can really … connect to.”

She said her best writing ideas “just pop in my head” late at night. She quickly types them into her phone to review later and see if one is worth expanding into a story.

“I feel like this year I’ve gotten a lot more into writing just to write,” Victoria said.

She wants her writing to feel like cinema. “I want people to feel like they’re in the story with me,” she said. “I like to make everything as human as possible. I love writing about human experiences. I love writing about grief. I love writing about love.”

Victoria said it’s important that the reader relate to her work. “Even though you might not be a child of an immigrant when you read this piece … you can certainly relate to the fact that you love your parents and you want your parents to feel there’s nothing wrong with them.”

Victoria, whose passions also include playing cello and participating in mock trials and Model United Nations, said she aspires to become an immigration lawyer to help families like hers. ◆