Sierra Nevada College honors best high school writers

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 Winners read alongside award-winning novelists visiting SNC for MFA program

By Tanya Canino

As a 6-year-old child, Jenny Jung randomly scribbled words on walls, her skin and even on her sleeping father, but in high school, she arranged those words to win first place in the 2013 Sierra Nevada College High School Writing Competition and a chance to read alongside well-known, published authors.

Sierra Nevada College hosted three of the 12 high school competition winners in early January, recognizing them Jan. 10 during the final night of the Incline Village, Nev. college’s low residency, MFA program in creative writing.

With Josh Weil, the author of the highly-acclaimed novella collection, “The New Valley,” sitting in a full audience of writers, MFA students and published faculty, Jung, a junior from Andover, Mass., read “Reality on a Friday Night,” which earned first-place in the creative nonfiction category.

Also reading were high school winners Dalia Ahmed, of Miami, Fla., who won the poetry category, and Emily Markwiese, of Santa Fe, N.M., another finalist in the poetry category.

“This is the second year we’ve invited winners to read at the MFA residency. They get to read alongside nationally acclaimed writers (this year Roxanne Gay and Josh Weil) and also have the opportunity to hear and interact with other writers. It’s a way to recognize their work and also to welcome them into a community of writers that is very nurturing and supportive of these young authors,” said June Saraceno, Sierra Nevada College English program chair.

Sierra Nevada College honors the best young writers in the country with the High School Writing Competition. The winners earn a cash prize and an opportunity to visit the Incline Village, Nev. campus to visit with the experienced faculty and published authors in the MFA program.

The low-residency MFA in Creative Writing is a two-year program with four distance-learning semesters, punctuated by five week-long residencies. Each residency is an eight-day intensive series of workshops, seminars, readings, and more. The latest was held Jan. 4-11, featuring best-selling author Colum McCann, as well as several other authors such as Weil, who mentored the MFA students.

Before Weil read on Friday, Jan. 10, the high school students had their turn to read their works.

Ahmed, who read her poem, “How to Mix Native Blood with Foreign Waters: A Lab,” said the $500 award was “a shock.”

“I didn’t expect to win. When I saw the letter, I freaked out on the spot,” said Ahmed, who says her inspiration comes from those who are exiled due her “conflicting background of being Arab-African-American.”

Sierra Nevada College faculty and Sierra Nevada Review editors sifted through over 700 submissions to choose the winners of the third annual contest.

“The final decisions were incredibly difficult given the quality of work we received this year,” said Laura Wetherington, faculty adviser for Sierra Nevada Review.

High school students submitted original, unpublished work to Sierra Nevada College for the contest and possible inclusion into the Sierra Nevada Review, an annual literary magazine.

“Many submissions exhibited stylistic innovation, skillful language use, and engaging development of theme. We were thrilled to see this level of craft from high school writers,” Saraceno said.

First-place winners in each category received $500; second-place, $250; and third-place, $100, plus eligibility for a $20,000 scholarship to Sierra Nevada College, Nevada’s only four-year, private, liberal arts college.

Poetry
First place: Dalia Ahmend, Miami, Fla., “How to Mix Native Blood with Foreign Water: A Lab.”
Second place: Talin Tahajian, Belmont, Mass., “Dream in Which the Moon…”
Third place: Hanel Baveja, Ann Arbor, Mich., “Concavity of Checkmate”
Local’s winner: Stephanie Hsu, Fremont, Calif., “Mitosis”
Finalists:
Baveja, “Gas Station at the End of the World”
Allison Light, Little Rock, Ark., “How to Read A Palm”
Emily Markwiese, Santa Fe, NM, “The Penumbra King”
Yasmin Belkhyr, Astoria, NY, “The Wolves Play Dead”
Melissa Ho, Ellicott City, MD, “Cages for Cinderblocks”Fiction
First place: Alexa Derman, West Field, NJ, “Kindergarten”
Second place: Catrina Sun Tan, San Francisco, Calif., “The 29”
Third place: Nick Burns, Ventura, Calif., “Moon Country”
Local winner: Sara Lagen, Prunedale, Calif., “The Countdown”
Finalists:
Emily Nichols, Diamond Springs, Calif., “A Mistaken Fear”
Oksana Picca, Effort, Penn., “Dollified”
Allison Paley, Redwood City, Calif., “The Door”
Celeste Barnaby, Reno, Nev., “Carcass”
Celeste Valdez, Miami, Fla., “The Inhabitance”
Nonfiction
First place: Jenny Jung, Andover, Mass., “A Reality on a Friday Night”
Second place: Allison Light, Little Rock, Ark., “How to Be Holy”
Third place: Tyler Randazzo, Bethlehem, NH, “Camp”
Local winner: Eloise Perrochet, Northridge, Calif., “Death of a Dogfish”
Finalists:
Talin Tahajian, Belmont, Mass., “Curtain Calls”
Anne Li, Fullerton, Calif., “An Introduction to Slam Poetry”
Elise Thompson, Portland, Ore., “Truth, Trauma, and Transit”
Sarah Cameron, Loleta, Calif., “Squatter’s Hill”
Jamie Cho, Pebble Beach, Calif., “Cessation”