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Winners of First SC High School Writing Contest Announced

A high school senior in Aiken and a high school junior in Columbia are the first-place winners of the 2013 South Carolina High School Writing Contest. Rowan Miller, a senior at Aiken High School, will receive the $1,000 Walter B. Edgar Award, funded by South Carolina Honors College alumnus Thad Westbrook and named for the noted South Carolina historian and retired USC professor who took pride in helping students become better writers. Hallie Chametzky, a junior at Dreher High School, will receive the $1,000 Dorothy S. Williams Award, funded by an anonymous donor and named for late Mrs. Williams, an Anderson elementary school principal who was dedicated to teaching students to write.

Sponsored by the South Carolina Honors College and the University of South Carolina Press, the writing contest was open to all high school juniors and seniors willing to tackle one question: “How should we improve the state of South Carolina?” Pat Conroy, New York Times bestselling author and Beaufort resident, scored the essays, which included results from an impromptu writing contest finalists took on the USC campus in October.

“We were very impressed by these talented young writers and their creativity and insight in articulating how we can make South Carolina better,” said Steve Lynn, dean of the South Carolina Honors College. “Not just the winners, but all the students who entered had something to say. Our youth are passionate about their state. We wanted to find and encourage young writers, and we think we accomplished that mission. The topic was daunting, and we congratulate all of them who took it on.”

Miller’s essay, “Different Worlds,” makes observations about the juxtaposition of Aiken’s rich and poor. Chametzky’s poem, “Change in Simple Arithmetic,” takes a penetrating view of Common Core and hate groups while also noting the state’s friendly and generous people. For their impromptu essays, both chose to write about a special place, based on the new USC Press anthology “State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love,” edited by Aïda Rogers.  Miller described a rustic lodge on Outing Lake in Aiken; Chametzky wrote about a hidden place in her former Illinois backyard.

Their writing, and that of the 21 other finalists, will be published in “Writing South Carolina: Selections from the First High School Writing Contest.” USC Press will publish the anthology in Fall 2014 under its Young Palmetto Books imprint.

“We’re excited to publish good writers, no matter their age,” said Jonathan Haupt, director of USC Press. “These students have significant messages, and we all can benefit from what they say. Maybe other states will follow our lead and start a meaningful conversation with their high school citizens.”

The finalists had varying opinions on how South Carolina can improve. Some focused on the environment: One student suggested removing invasive species, another engaged the difficult problem of eliminating pollution. Others looked at education: One student decried the lack of arts funding, while another recommended, with surprising persuasiveness, a four-day school week. The most surprising submissions, Lynn said, were probably the personal poems and essays about poverty, animal cruelty, and substance and physical abuse. “One heart-wrenching submission is written as a letter from a foster child,” he said. “These students are very familiar with or they are able to imagine disturbing realities—or both.”   

Of the 472 students who participated in the contest, 23 were invited to a second round of competition. Those finalists were given 40 minutes to write about a significant book, based on Conroy’s “My Reading Life,” or a memorable place. Conroy delivered a lecture to the students about his experiences as a young writer, visited with each one, and signed copies of “My Reading Life” for them.

The students will be recognized Feb. 27 at the Township Auditorium in Columbia during the One Book, One Columbia program. This event, “Live with Pat Conroy,” will feature Walter B. Edgar interviewing Conroy about “My Reading Life,” which was chosen by the One Book, One Columbia committee for Columbians to read during February.

The 2013 contest was the first of what will become an annual event. “We were so pleased with this year’s results that we can’t not continue,” Lynn said. “Writing is good for all of us, and reading these submissions enlightened and inspired those of us who read them.”

Miller, 17, is the son of Patty Hudson and Brad Miller. His English teachers are Francesca Pataro, Emily Geyer, and Emelia Ligon.

Chametzky, 16, is the daughter of Susan Felleman and Peter Chametzky. Her English teacher is Mona Elleithee.

Second place winners will receive $500; third place winners will receive $250.

Senior award winners

Second Place: Katherine Frain, Mount Pleasant, Wando High School, “Place of Refuge,” poem
Third Place: Allison Able, Saluda, Saluda High School, “Song of Silence,” essay
Honorable Mention: Drake Shadwell, Dalzell, Wilson Hall, play (untitled)
Honorable Mention: Jordhane Stanley, Seabrook Island, South Carolina Virtual School, essay (untitled)

Junior award winners

Second Place: Zoe Abedon, Sullivan’s Island, Charleston County School of the Arts, “To Overcome,” poem
Third Place: Madison Seabrook, Mount Pleasant Charleston County School of the Arts, “A Novel Prospect,” poem
Honorable Mention: Suzanne Jackson, Charleston, Charleston County School of the Arts, “Local Since Forever,” essay
Honorable Mention: Rebecca Walker, Spartanburg, Dorman High School, essay (untitled)