An Anthology of the Best Teen Writers and Artists in America

Earlier this week, I attended my nephew’s high school graduation ceremony. Needless to say, it has been many moons since I’ve seen the long yawn of a football field and it felt a bit bizarre to be packed like (yes) sardines into a set of entirely too uncomfortable bleachers for too long of a duration. But I would be remiss if I didn’t admit that I unabashedly enjoyed the entire experience. First and foremost, my nephew is a bona fide superstar (Waitago Cullen!). As his class’s co-valedictorian, he gave a speech that kicked so much proverbial butt that it brought tears to my eyes. Was I that poised, humble, and forward-thinking at that age? Definitely not. Beyond his achievements, I was impressed with the student body as a whole. They seemed so mature. Inspired. Confident. Whether or not they were actually prepared for the journey ahead, they appeared ready and jazzed to take on the challenge. It gave me hope that they’d succeed in carting these positive, go-getter attitudes along into adulthood.

What also came across that afternoon was the obvious but often forgotten notion that a teen’s reality is vastly different from an adult’s. Different pressures. Different dreams. Different outlook overall. Often times, adults get accused (and rightly so) of being out of touch for that very reason: We’ve lost contact with the types of experiences teens are having and the decisions they are faced with. It’s difficult for us to put aside what we’ve learned since our adolescence to recall what it feels like to be both in and out of control in that special teenage way. We assume we know what’s best, but maybe that’s not always the case?

That’s why it’s crucial for kids and adults to read and reread books like What We Remember, What We Forget. It’s the fourth PUSH anthology featuring the cream of the crop entries of Scholastic’s Art & Writing Awards (2008-2011). In the introduction, editor David Levithan writes, “It is a common criticism of teenage work that its gaze only falls internally, that teenage writers and artists can rarely see much further than themselves. The art created here, however, is reflective in much more than a mirror sense. The physical world comes alive . . . The greater world looms large, while the details of everyday life fall into haphazard place . . . It’s the saving grace of any generation, to unleash the observers into the world and partake in what they share.”  Amen to that.

Like its three predecessors, What We Remember What We Forget is packed with dozens of short stories, poems, and first-person essays on everything from puberty to religion to suicide, written by teens from across the country. It’s impossible to single out any one offering, as each and every entry is impressive in its own right. What’s more, the collection of sketches and paintings, photographs and sculptures included as a color insert at the book’s center is so full of beauty and raw emotion that it’s hard to believe the artists who created these masterpieces are . . . well . . . kids.

The book is a perfect gift for graduating seniors now that they have a bit of time on their hands before whatever’s coming next. I’d also recommend the three other PUSH anthologies featured throughout the post: We Are Quiet, We Are Loud (SWA: 2005-2007); Where We Are, What We See; and You Are Here, This Is Now (SWA: 1999-2001). As for younger teens (some of the material covered might be too racy for middle-graders), there’s plenty to choose from as well. Plus, if you know of any burgeoning writers and/or artists in grades 7-12, encourage them to submit a few samples to Scholastic’s Art & Writing Awards committee. For those of you who aren’t aware, these prestigious awards have been around since 1923 and have attracted the interest of more than 13 million students, recognized more than 9 million young artists and writers, and made available more than $25 million in awards and scholarships. Past winners include Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, and Truman Capote. Teens can apply in 28 categories of art and writing for the chance to earn scholarships and have their work exhibited or published in books like the ones mentioned above. Submissions are accepted beginning September 17th and deadlines are generally mid-December thru mid-January. Submission instructions can be found here.

To read the rest of this post, please visit Letter Blocks: The B&N Parents and Educators Blog.

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