Winners of the Second Atlantic and College Board Writing Prize Contest Recognized in D.C.
Winners of the Second Atlantic and College Board Writing Prize Contest Recognized in D.C.Michael Preston, Associate Director, Communications
On May 17 in Washington, D.C., the College Board and The Atlantic teamed up once again to recognize some of the best student writing in the world.
As part of the Atlantic's Education Summit, the two organizations came together to laud the work of three extraordinary student writers who participated in the second Atlantic & College Board Writing Prize. Following up on last year's successful contest — where students were asked to write essays examining important documents in American history — this year's contest shifted the focus to significant works of art. Over 2,000 students from 43 countries submitted essays on more than 700 distinctive paintings, sculptures, and drawings. Some essays thoughtfully engaged with timeless masterworks from Van Goh and Di Vinci; others grappled with contemporary and unconventional work, such as the street paintings from graffiti artists like Banksy.
This year's contest also incorporated a significant new element: revision. Revising is an essential and substantial step in the writing process; the judges wanted students to understand that revision is not simply proofreading, but that it is critical to good analytical writing. Or, as Sandra Riley, the College Board's vice president of communications, put it during her remarks, "Revision is an act of practice that helps writers truly become great."
Contest semi-finalists were invited to participate in one-on-one editing sessions with members of the Atlantic’s editorial staff. After incorporating the editors' feedback, the three semi-finalists resubmitted revised essays for a final judging.
This year's overall winner was Thanh Nguyen, a senior at the Hanoi-Amsterdam School for the Gifted in Hanoi, Vietnam. Nguyen, who will be a freshman at Duke this fall, explored the relevance of the Renaissance painter Raphel's work to his contemporary upbringing in his essay, "A Vietnamese Looking Foward to a School of Athens." In talking about his essay, the panel of judges remarked that Thanh "managed to weave together a careful and historically informed close reading of the fresco itself with interpretations from secondary source materials and with, most distinctively, an application of Raphael's ideas and ideals to the author's own social and political context, as a student in Communist Hanoi.”
As the overall winner of the contest, Nguyen received a $5,000 prize and his essay will be published in the September 2016 issue of The Atlantic.
The other two finalists, Alejandra Canales and Rahul Malayappan, also produced strong essays that won considerable admiration from the judges.
Canales, a senior at John B. Alexander High School in Laredo, Texas, who will be a freshman at Yale this fall, wrote a deeply personal essay examining her competing identities. The essay was inspired by Frida Kahlo’s painting, Autorretrato en la frontera entre México y Estados Unidos (“Self Portrait Along the Border Line Between Mexico and the United States”). The judges said that Canales produced a "strong and engaging narrative” that “skillfully weaves an interpretation of the artwork with her own coming of age story.” They went on to say that her “simple, direct style and openness about her own story draws the reader in and helps convey the sense of shared experience that makes the artwork so powerful.”
Malayappan, a senior at Danbury High School in Danbury, Connecticut, who will attend the University of California, Berkeley, this fall, examined the way Dutch artist M.C. Escher challenges viewers' perceptions in his famous Waterfall lithograph. The judges commented that Rahul's essay was "as smart and cogent an essay about how Escher achieves his magic, and about what the effects of it on the viewer are” and that the “essay begins with a deceptively straightforward depiction of a waterfall, then leads us to explore the limitations of perspective—an astute commentary on both the artwork and the human condition.”
As finalists, Canales and Malayappan also received cash prizes of $2,500 each.
To find out more about the students' editing sessions with the Atlantic editors, see this in-depth article from Poynter.
In addition to being recognized at the summit, the finalists and their families were treated to a VIP tour of the nation's capitol before the day's festivities started. They began with a visit to the offices of The Atlantic where the students were able to meet face-to-face with the editors who provided feedback on their essays.
They then moved on to the National Gallery of Art where they received a curated tour led by one of the museum's senior lecturers. The students marveled at a Rembrandt self-portrait, and Fra Angelico and Fra Filippo Lippi's Adoration of the Magi, among many other works.
The group then moved on to the National Museum of Women in the Arts for a viewing of the only Kahlo painting in D.C., the artist's Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky. The group ended the day with a dinner at the Old Ebbitt Grill and a tour of D.C. monuments led by the Atlantic staff.