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Student Winners Follow the Famous

Kathleen Ching, left, winner of a top prize in the 2005 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, with her teacher, Carlos Molina, a past winner.
Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Kathleen Ching, left, winner of a top prize in the 2005 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, with her teacher, Carlos Molina, a past winner.

Published: April 19, 2005

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null Future Literary Stars
Several of the winners of this year's Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, a competition for scholarship money and national recognition.

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The process can be arduous, beginning in many cases in middle school, when students start competing in regional contests, accumulating prizes and finesse as they work their way up the awards ladder. But for students like Ms. Saylor, the intensity paid off, and not just in prize money. The competition gave her passion validation - not easy for serious young writers to come by in a pop culture world.

Craft still matters. "What has been surprising to me is the quality of the writing and the confidence and authority," said Esmeralda Santiago, who has written several books, including the memoir "When I Was Puerto Rican," and a Scholastic juror since 1993. "When I was 18 years old, I was trying to figure out if something is 'on the table' or 'in the table.' "

While a large percentage of the art and photography students tend to stay in those fields as adults, far fewer of the writers follow in the footsteps of Joyce Carol Oates (a 1956 winner for a short story) and turn professional. The awards can become a catalyst for a career, however, sometimes by accident.

Ned Vizzini was a student at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan in 1996, fully expecting to become a computer programmer, when he entered the contest and won an honorable mention. He went to the awards ceremony inappropriately dressed (plaid shorts) and spilled punch all over his shirt before he had to go on stage to accept his prize. On top of that, he was anxious, wondering how he compared with other writers in the room.

His account of the experience ran in the alternative weekly The New York Press. Now, at 24, he is waiting for his third novel to come out. His previous one, "Be More Chill," published last year by Miramax/Hyperion was about the sexual frustrations of a teenage boy. A reviewer in The New York Times Book Review wrote of "Chill": "If it weren't so funny, his first novel might be too painful to read."

Mr. Vizzini, a Scholastic juror this year, said the contest got him started. "There was a poster up in my English class and my teacher said it was a good thing," he said. "I wasn't an awards guy. I didn't want prizes for college. I just wanted to see if my writing was any good."

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