Scaling the Coliseum of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards
by Angelica Crane (’07 Intern), Gillian Levinson (’07 Fellow), & Raisa Reyes (’07 Fellow)
How do you get to Carnegie Hall? You practice, of course! On Friday, June 15, recipients of the 2007 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and their guests were invited to the illustrious hall to celebrate their incredible achievements. Sponsored by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Awards program has been a platform for students’ creative expression since Scholastic founder, M.R. Robinson, started it in 1923.
This year’s award recipients were honored with musical performances by Nuttin’ But Stringz and Kiley Dean, readings by Broadway actors Blair Brown, Jason Butler Harner, and Amy Ryan, and an exhilarating speech by acclaimed author Chuck Palahniuk. Scholastic President and CEO Dick Robinson, Alliance for Young Artists & Writers Executive Director B.J. Adler, and Alliance Board Chairman Dwight Lee also offered words of encouragement and praise for the Award recipients and the parents and teachers who have supported them. Dick Robinson commended the teachers and parents for supporting “the best of the best,” and encouraged the honorees to “try for the difficult life of the artist.”
The audience was a sea of smiles as Robinson explained the personal significance of this award: “My siblings and I owe our lives to these awards,” he said, explaining that his mother, having received the award in her youth, decided to pursue a career at Scholastic — where she met, fell in love with, and married M.R. Robinson. “Who knows, then, where this award will lead you,” Robinson joked, “and we entrust to you a promising future.”
The evening began with an astonishing performance by a truly unique duo, Nuttin’ But Stringz. Showcasing their violins, hip-hop style, and vibrant energy, Tourie and Damien Escobar welcomed the young honorees, who strutted across the stage to their seats. As the award recipients took center stage, Carnegie Hall echoed with the thunderous applause of proud families and teachers.
The celebratory spirit continued with featured guest speaker and actor Jason Butler Harner, most recently appearing in the award-winning The Coast of Utopia. Jason expressed how incredibly “inspired” and “humbled” he was in the presence of such promising youth. “There is something terrific waiting for you,” he warmly encouraged, and rightly so. With this ceremony, the 2007 Scholastic Art & Writing Award recipients joined some of our nation’s most influential artists and writers, with past recipients including renowned artists and writers such as Sylvia Plath, Joyce Carol Oates, and Andy Warhol.
B.J. Adler praised the teachers and judges who recognized a diversity of voices, with awardees hailing from all kinds of backgrounds and many fighting to overcome substantial obstacles along the way. Adler’s words captured the spirit of the evening as she noted that she was “blinded by the light of this aggregation of talent and potential” and assured the talented teenagers that “we are committed to you and to those who follow in your footsteps.”
Dwight Lee acknowledged the youth’s personal journeys and the unique “artistic vision that brought you to this moment.” Lee introduced slides of the nuanced and accomplished works of the Art Portfolio Gold Award recipients—museum-quality artwork in diverse media. Dramatic readings of the works of the Writing Portfolio Gold Award recipients followed, with seasoned Broadway veterans Blair Brown, Jason Butler Harner, and Amy Ryan bringing the young writers’ words to life. Topics ranging from anorexia, to prayers for personal strength and peace during war, to teen angst manifested through a deep loathing of biology class and the Beatles, struck a chord with audience members, evoking laughter, pain, and an overwhelming sense of admiration for the young writers.
Chuck Palahniuk, the bestselling author of Fight Club and Rant and a mentor to one of the past Award recipients, entertained the audience with a humorously candid speech on the trials of professional life. Laughter resounded throughout Carnegie Hall at the fascinating amalgamation of inanity and profundity present in Palahniuk’s words. “To the winners,” he advised, “please use whatever you do... as your excuse to keep exploring your work and stay a student for the rest of your lives.”
The ceremony concluded with young recording artist Kiley Dean singing an original work, “Convince Me.” No one needed convincing about the passion and dedication of the young artists and writers recognized, or their promising futures.