Hopkinton High School junior Kevin Gu writes faithfully in his journal every day and spends hours of his free time creating poetry and short stories.
He obviously takes his writing seriously. So did the judges in the 2021 Scholastic Writing Awards, a statewide writing competition for students.
Gu earned 10 awards in the competition, including a prestigious nomination for the American Voices award. This nomination is given to the top five writing submissions in Massachusetts and makes him eligible for the American Voices Award, the top award a student can earn for writing in the program.
He received four gold keys, one silver key and five honorable mentions for his work.
His American Voices nomination was in the flash fiction category, which he describes as a mix of short story and poetry and something of an “experimental” style.
He began writing that piece in the summer of 2019. His other awards were in the categories of critical essay, poetry and short story.
“I am incredibly proud of the awards I earned,” he said, “but even more so about the personal growth that resulted from continuous writing for years on end. I’m incredibly grateful to all those who have supported and contributed to my journey as a writer.”
His love for writing began in childhood, when he began jotting thoughts of the day as early as second grade.
In middle school, he joined the fan fiction club.
But he didn’t think of sharing his writing much beyond himself, he said, until he reached high school and heard about the scholastic awards.
He submitted a short story in ninth grade and received an honorable mention — and an insight.
“Wait a second,” he realized. “I can win stuff with my writing.”
“After that, I wrote a lot,” he said. “I wanted to win again.”
In the summer of ninth grade, he was one of only 20 students in Greater Boston selected to attend the teen writing class at GrubStreet, a nonprofit creative writing center in Boston.
“That’s where my love for poetry” was inspired, he said, adding to his experience with prose and short stories.
He continued to earn more awards each year, culminating with this year’s significant haul. He also serves as the editor in chief of the Hopkinton High School online newspaper.
His wasn’t the only impressive performance by a local student in the competition. Brian Gu (no relation) won a best in category award for short story in Massachusetts. Best in category is for a submission that judges believe exceeds even the expectation of a gold key award.
Student Mia Carboni won three awards and also took honors in last year’s competition.
HHS English teacher Sarah Ellam said she hopes the recognition encourages other students to participate.
“I was so happy to see the awards,” she said. She also is grateful to the Hopkinton Parent Teacher Association, which covered the competition entry fees.
Writing can take time out of class to work on and polish, but it can also be “accessible,” Kevin Gu said. He has submitted essays he wrote in his AP classes.
Similarly, Ellam said, nearly every year students win for their college essays, so she encouraged students to consider all their writing when applying. “People just underestimate their talent,” she said.
She hopes that the extra time at home during the pandemic provided added opportunities for creativity. “The demands of school weren’t as high last spring,” as remote learning was in its infancy. “Maybe some of the students took time to work on their passions.”
Judges are looking for work that reflects the students’ voices, something she emphasizes as well. “I encourage them to put more of themselves into their writing,” she said.
“We hope that students feel it’s a way to express themselves and hopefully discover more about themselves,” she added.
By doing this, they create stronger work, she said. But they also learn something valuable, something she said she hopes they take with them well beyond the classroom: “Their voice does matter.”
Following is a complete list of winners from HHS:
Chloe Baril, honorable mention, poetry; Anjali Batra, silver key, poetry; Mia Carboni, honorable mention, personal essay/memoir, silver key, poetry, silver key, critical essay; Brian Gu, gold key, short story; Kevin Gu, honorable mention, critical essay, honorable mention, poetry, gold key, poetry, gold key/American Voices nominee, flash fiction; honorable mention, short story; honorable mention, poetry, silver key, critical essay, gold key, poetry, gold key, poetry, honorable mention, poetry; Ishita Khurana, gold key, critical essay; Marley Sensenderfer, honorable mention, poetry; Afnaan Syed, gold key, critical essay.