One senior and three juniors have won the top awards in the annual South Carolina High School Writing Contest. Presented by the South Carolina Honors College, the contest asks the same question each year: How can we make South Carolina better? Students can respond in poetry, prose, drama, and fiction, keeping their submissions within 750 words. This year’s judge was Ron Rash, internationally acclaimed novelist, poet, and short story writer.
Elliott Kate Cooper of Mt. Pleasant won first place with her personal essay, “Eulogy for the Fireflies.” A junior at Charleston County School of the Arts, Cooper described how the unspoiled beauty of her hometown – and her father’s – has been altered by development, and how some newcomers have become condescending towards those who grew up there and revere simpler surroundings. Recounting a conversation she overheard in which she was called “not island family,” she wrote: “I wanted to take her hand and drag her through my memory, my dad’s memories, through fireflies and duck ponds and everything that has been torn down, made brand-new, and ask – is this what you mean by progress? Taking walls already built and making them higher, harder to breach?”
Cooper will receive the Walter Edgar Award, which includes $1,000. The Walter Edgar Award is provided by Thad Westbrook, a Columbia lawyer and University of South Carolina trustee, in honor of his history professor. Cooper is the daughter of Liz and John Townsend Cooper. Her AP literature teacher is Dr. John Cusatis.
Kat Davis of Irmo won second place with “Ask Yourself,” her personal essay about gender, race, and cultural inequality, and how a fair study of history improve understanding of those issues. “How does one deal with oblivious ignorance? I ask this question when I see pictures of myself dressed as a Native American in kindergarten class. I still struggle to conclude if that was my fault. Teachers shouldn’t let five-year-olds wear culture as a costume.”
A senior at the Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities in Greenville, Davis will receive the South Carolina Academy of Authors Award, which includes $500. She is the daughter of Robin Rolin and Chuck Davis. Her writing teachers are Scott Gould, Emily Cinquemani and Alan Rossi.
Yana Johnson of Columbia won third place for “Great Expectations,” her personal essay about enduring racism as a Black person in South Carolina. A junior at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Johnson described how her childhood crush, a White boy, told her she’d be buried in the slave graveyard of the historic plantation their class was visiting. “The force of disappointment I felt towards him was nuclear,” she wrote. “Every mosquito in that green, boggish swamp could have stung my very organs themselves and it would’ve been a paper cut compared to what he had caused me.”
A student of Dr. Sally Plowden, Johnson will receive the South Carolina Academy of Authors/Pat Conroy Literary Center Award, which includes $250. She is the daughter of Yasmine and Kevin Johnson.
Merrik Moriarty of Charleston won Honorable Mention for “Fairforest Creek,” a letter to her sister recalling how as children they played in a once-pristine stream. Now grown up and estranged from each other, she describes how their creek also has become estranged. “Would you believe me if I told you the broken state of our fairytale kingdom? The water is slicked iridescent with oil, clouded with stagnant algae. Foil wrappers dance in the wind where we used to, beer cans crumpled among the knobs of cypress roots – the fairies evicted, I’m sure.”
A junior at Charleston County School of the Arts, Moriarty is a student of Danielle DeTiberus and the daughter of Robyn and Joe Moriarty.
Now in its tenth year, the South High School Carolina Writing Contest was founded by Steven Lynn, dean of the South Carolina Honors College. The contest includes a publishing opportunity for its winners and finalists. This year, the submissions of the four winners and 15 finalists will be published on the SCHC website in volume 10 of Writing South Carolina: Selections of the High School Writing Contest.
“This contest is a strong reminder that high schoolers in South Carolina are very aware of the problems we face in this state,” said Aïda Rogers, contest coordinator. “Through their writings we learn about their fears of school shootings, addiction and violence in their families, and the mental illnesses they battle. They’ve taken a stand on book banning, gentrification, and the environment. We’re excited to publish their work, and eager to see what these young people will do in the future.”
The contest’s presenting partners include the Pat Conroy Literary Center, the South Carolina Academy of Authors, the South Carolina Writers Association, and the South Carolina State Library. Previous judges have been acclaimed South Carolina writers, including novelists Pat Conroy, Pam Durban, Mary Alice Monroe and Elise Blackwell; poets Nikky Finney, Marjory Wentworth, Sam Amadon and Ray McManus; historian Walter Edgar; and Jonathan Haupt, director of the Pat Conroy Literary Center.
The finalists for the 2022-23 year are:
Elliott Braghirol | Byrnes High School, Duncan
Ariel Byrnside | Byrnes High School, Duncan
Sarah Campbell Brown | AC Flora High School, Columbia
Sophia Conner | Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia
Grace Davisson | Wando High School, Mt. Pleasant
Madison Graham | Academy for Arts, Sciences and Technology, Myrtle Beach
Ashleigh Howard | Byrnes High School, Duncan
Aseel Ibrahim | Wando High School, Mt. Pleasant
Mylah Mathis | Byrnes High School, Duncan
Hannah Mitchell | Byrnes High School, Duncan
Logan Morgan | Battery Creek High School, Beaufort
Rebecca Norton Baker | Socastee High School, Myrtle Beach
Jaimie Park | Riverside High School, Greer
Shylah Phillips | North Augusta High School
Liam Quan | Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia