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 poet Felicia Mitchell, an alumna of the SCHC and recently retired writing specialist at Emory & Henry College in Virginia.
Dayanara Reyes of Newberry won first place with her personal essay, “My Name, My Roots, My Home.” A junior at Newberry High School, Reyes writes about how she gives “Diane” as her name at restaurants rather than explain her ethnic heritage. “For a simple fast-food restaurant, I have drowned my roots in iced tea and buried them under dirt roads,” she wrote. “I sacrificed the name that the calloused hands of my father gave me to conform myself to this state that he chose.”
Judge Mitchell called Reyes’ essay a “strong, beautifully written reflection on the complexity of an immigrant experience within the state. There is a sophisticated interaction between the message and the setting that acknowledges ambiguities and complexities of the subject.”
Reyes 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. Reyes is the daughter of Evarista Leyva and Pablo Reyes. Her English teacher is Dianne Hartness.
Zayd Kidwai of Duncan won second place with “I Promise, I Won’t Forget You,” a letter to a neglected patient he remembered while shadowing an overworked nurse in a hospital. The letter details how today’s combination of rising health care costs and nursing shortage have resulted in people not getting the medical care they need. A junior at GREEN Upstate High School in Simpsonville, Kidwai will receive the South Carolina Academy of Authors Award, which includes $500. He is the son of Rana Kidwai and Dr. Asif Kidwai. His English 101 instructor at Greenville Technical College was Penny Wilcox.
Brookelynn Little of Simpsonville won third place for her poem, “Hands-Up!” A senior at Woodmont High School in Piedmont, Little describes the generational trauma she faces as a Black student – in class, with friends and on field trips. Little will receive the South Carolina Academy of Authors/Pat Conroy Literary Center Award, which includes $250. She is the student of AP writing teachers Kim Whitmire, Anissa Gibbs and Tara Warrington, and the daughter of Kim and Tarik Little.
Lily Heiner of Blythewood won Honorable Mention for “A Queer Child’s Lullaby,” a personal essay about the rejection and difficulties members of the LGBTQA+ community experience in their lives. A junior at Blythewood High School, Heiner is a student of Erin Zehner and the daughter of Jessica and Michael Heiner.
Now in its eleventh 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.
“This contest gives us an annual glimpse into what South Carolina teens are thinking,” said Aïda Rogers, contest coordinator. “Gun violence, protecting the environment, mental and physical health, and education inequality are just a few topics that concern them. We believe these writers are our future leaders, and we are excited to publish their work.”
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, Ron Rash, 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 2023-24 year are:
Abigail Bailey, SC Governor’s School for Science and Math
Avelyn Bailey, Hanahan High School
Kimora Brown, Berkeley Middle School, Moncks Corner
Eunwoo Choi, River Bluff High School, Lexington
Shaina Dashiell, Chapin High School
Kensley Green, Fairfield Central High School, Winnsboro
Dylan Kennedy, SC Governor’s School for Arts and Humanities
Brantley Metcalf, Dorman High School, Spartanburg
Catherine Milburn, Ridge View High School, Columbia
Raghav Pallapothu, River Bluff High School, Lexington
Kendall Pifer, Catawba Ridge High, Fort Mill
Davies Roberts, Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, Columbia
Kristin Rotchford, Homeschooled, Wellford
Justin Schlag, Stratford High School, Goose Creek
Sophia Strobel, Byrnes High School, Duncan