Scholastic Writing Awards embolden self-discovery for American Voices Nominees 

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February 11, 2022 by HCDE-Texas

Deer Park High School (Deer Park ISD) senior Haylee Maxwell finds power in putting pen to paper, taking up her words on a page like a plate of armor in the battles of life. Her American Voices-nominated poem “The Devil’s Decree,” which reflects on the experience of her and her mother returning to their home after fleeing her alcoholic father, was inspired by her mother’s bravery and determination to give her a better life.  

She wrote it to prove to herself how far she’s come since then, she says. 

“This poem is proof of my freedom from my father,” said Maxwell. “It’s now bound on paper, on display for everyone to see.”  

Deer Park High School (Deer Park ISD) senior Haylee Maxwell and teacher Amani Stephens pose for a photo, February 8, 2022.

Maxwell earned one of five 2022 American Voices Nominee Awards, a best-in-class distinction judged from a pool of nearly 5,000 entries received by Harris County Department of Education, the regional sponsor and a valued partner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards since 1993.  

Presented by the nonprofit organization The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are the country’s longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for creative students in grades 7–12.  

Maxwell’s teacher, Amani Stephens, who taught her as a sophomore and now as a senior, says the poem illustrates how Maxwell, “in true fashion, is unapologetically herself and calm under pressure.”  

“While composing her poem, she never once showed any signs of struggling or uncertainty because she knew exactly what she wanted to write and how to write it,” said Stephens.  

“The odor—an addiction perhaps?

It suffocates

and the heart, it rakes.

Did it know he had a family?

A blind eye, I suppose.

When the odor comes, he goes…”

–Excerpt from “The Devil’s Decree” by Haylee Maxwell

Stephens lauds Scholastic Writing for the freedom it gives students to explore and express limitless topics in their chosen genre or style. She loves that it is “made for students.”  

“Scholastic Writing has always been a platform for my students to showcase their personalities and creativity that can sometimes become stifled by academic writing and the pressures of the everyday world,” she said. “In many ways, Scholastic gives my students a platform to reveal their passions, ideas, beliefs, and emotions that can become lost or forgotten with the urgency of the world today.”  

Maxwell, who is also a two-time Scholastic Writing Silver Key awardee, confirms Stephen’s beliefs as she describes her motives for her poem, which is intended for the children and spouses of homes “plagued by substance abuse,” she says.  

“I want people to read my work and question their way of thinking,” said Maxwell. “I was comfortable writing about such a sensitive subject because I knew people like me would read it and realize their life doesn’t have to be the way it is. The thought that I could change a life for a child is enough to keep the pen moving.”  

The powerful feeling of finding their voices is a sentiment shared by all of the 2022 American Voices Nominees.  

Krimmel Intermediate School (Klein ISD) student Ethan Coraza says writing is that “thing” that allows him to convey his thoughts and emotions. Albright Middle School (Alief ISD) student Anuoluwapo “Janet” Adeoye says pouring out her thoughts and feelings on paper brings her peace. St. John’s School junior Talia Martin thinks deeply about any text she studies and “consistently has an incisive take on even the most complex novels like, for example, ’White Noise,’” says English teacher Kyle Dennan. 

David Liu poses for a photo.

David Liu, a freshman at The Kinkaid School, says the motive for his personal essay “The ‘Waterfall’” was the search for identity as he began to imagine a version of himself that did not play the piano.  

“I lived and breathed piano because it’s who I was,” said Liu. “The memory represents to me the continual struggle for a place in the world, and I hope that my writing allows someone to see their own reflection in my experiences and for it to inspire or comfort them in their pains and aspirations.”  

“The piano hummed with the pompous tune of the Polish march. The honey of music effortlessly dripped from my fingers, sweetening the melodies, and soothing my roiling anxieties.”

–Excerpt from “The ‘Waterfall'” by David Liu

Since the program’s inception in 1923, the awards have fostered the creativity and talent of millions of students, including renowned alumni who have become leaders in their fields, including Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Stephen King, Richard Linklater, and Lena Dunham. This year’s five American Voices Nominees, the highest regional honor, are as follows:  

Gold Key Awards – Writing, American Voices Nominee Awards

  • Anuoluwapo “Janet” Adeoye, 8th grade, Albright Middle School, Alief ISD, Poetry, “Equal,” submitted through teacher Megan Kelly   
  • Ethan Coraza, 8th grade, Krimmel Intermediate School, Klein ISD, Flash Fiction, “Mirage,” submitted through teacher Lisa Viessmann  
  • David Liu, 9th grade, The Kinkaid School, Personal Essay and Memoir, “The ‘Waterfall,’” submitted through teacher Kristen Bird 
  • Talia Martin, 11th grade, St. John’s School, Critical Essay, “Perceptions of Disaster: ‘White Noise,’” submitted through teacher Kyle Dennan  
  • Haylee Maxwell, 12th grade, Deer Park High School, Deer Park ISD, Poetry, “The Devil’s Decree,” submitted through teacher Amani Stephens

An award signifies to parents, teachers, the community, and colleges that a student is an accomplished artist or writer and offers creative teens the opportunity to earn recognition, exhibition, publication, and up to $10,000 in scholarships. Works that receive Gold Key recognition at the regional level are automatically submitted for national adjudication. HCDE announced the regional Scholastic Art Awards recipients in January.  

The National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Medalists will be announced on March 23, 2022. Historically, Gold Medalists and most scholarship recipients are invited to attend the annual National Events week of celebration in New York City.   

To read the American Voices Awards nominated works or find the complete list of 2022 regional awardees, updates, and more information about the regional awards, visit hcde-texas.org/scholastic-awards

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