Wiscasset, Maine. Maeve Tholen and Ella Seymour, two eighth-grade students attending Chewonki Elementary and Middle School have been selected to receive honors from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, one of the nation’s most prestigious and long-running art and writing contests.
Seymour, a resident of Dresden, received an Honorable Mention at the regional level for her memoir titled, “Yellow Joy,” while Tholen, a resident of Alna, was selected to receive a Gold Key Award for the northeast region of the United States for her short story titled, “A Painted Seashell.” Tholen will automatically advance to the national level for adjudication on March 17.
“Getting my writing judged at the national level is something that I never thought would happen,” says Tholen. “My writing will actually be judged by famous authors, which is what I’m most excited about. Just being able to have my writing looked at by people who have made a career in writing is an amazing opportunity.”
According to the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the contest received more than 320,000 original works of art and writing in 2020. Students’ entries are blindly adjudicated by some of the foremost leaders in the visual and literary arts, including; Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Judy Blume, Billy Collins, Paul Giamatti, Francine Prose, Edwidge Danticat, David Sedaris, Lesley Stahl, Nikki Giovanni, Roz Chast, Wangechi Mutu, Andres Serrano, Kiki Smith, Jill Kraus, Shinique Smith, Rashid Johnson, and Waris Ahluwalia. Jurors look for works that exemplify the Awards’ core values: originality, technical skill, and the emergence of personal voice or vision.
Seymour’s “Yellow Joy” is a personal essay that explores a long summer of frustrations and a transformative moment at the beach, unlocking introspection and the power of positive thinking:
“I de-layered and slumped down to the water’s edge over the stick-scattered sand. As it slowly grew more crowded, we were forced to move off the beach and towards the woods so as to not come close to anyone. I stood still in the rippling with my arms crossed in front of me and my shoulders hunched. I tried to ignore the brisk water, observing the people around me, children with adults. I envied the five-year-olds’ persistence to have so much fun.”
“I’m just really thankful for all the support I have gotten from my friends and family,” says Seymour. “My grandfather writes, my aunt -who was mentioned in the story- is a teacher, and my parents are the most creative people I know.”
In “A Painted Seashell,” Tholen offers an emotionally powerful coming-of-age story about a young woman losing her beloved grandmother to dementia amid the struggles of the Covid-19 pandemic:
“We planted carrots that were all colors of the rainbow, we planted peas in the still-frozen ground. We planted green beans, and purple and white speckled scarlet runner beans. Those were my favorite. And every year in spring you would plant a mango seed. You have planted one every year for the past twenty-five years you have lived in Maine. You always hoped that one year it would sprout and you would have one plant to remind you of Cuba. You were so determined to make that little seed grow, that you sang to it every day. You sat and painted picture after picture of the bare soil, and you read to it. It never sprouted, but you never stopped trying.”
“I used my relationship with my grandmother to depict the main character’s relationship with her grandmother,” says Tholen. “A couple of my family members have or had dementia, so I also used that element. I chose to submit this story because it’s definitely one of the best short stories I’ve ever written.”
According to Kat Cassidy, the head of elementary and middle school at Chewonki, the students wrote these stories as part of a writing curriculum based on short stories, personal narratives, and identity. The students were so encouraged by the results, they decided to submit their work to the Scholastic Art & Writing contest and another competition sponsored by the Patten Free Library in Bath.
“We submitted the essays to both contests on Dec. 4,” says Cassidy. “On the 28th I logged on to my Scholastic account to check for the announcements. I ran next door to pull Maeve and then Ella out in the hall to show them the good news. They were both thrilled.“ Cassidy is Tholen’s mother, as well as the head of school, and the two have created a unique teacher-student relationship over the years.
“My mom has been my teacher for six years now, and she is the one that has inspired me, encouraged me, and helped me become the writer I am today,” says Tholen. “In third grade, I wrote about my summer vacation and when I handed it in for editing, my mom tore it apart, in a good way. Every piece of writing since has been the same, she gave me constructive criticism I could learn from and rework my own writing. Now I’m really thankful for all the things she has done for me as my teacher and my mom.“
Buoyed by these regional honors, the whole school is eagerly looking forward to the final round of adjudication in March.
“Having two students in our 8th-grade class recognized this way is pretty great,” says Cassidy. “Honors from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is something colleges take into consideration when determining admissions and scholarships. Ella and Maeve have put a lot of rigor and effort into their writing, and we’re very proud.”