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Winning Essay Translates Teen's Story
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Winning Essay Translates Teen's Story



Andy Warhol received one, so did Sylvia Plath and Robert Redford. Each of these cultural icons was recognized in high school by a program originally run by Scholastic magazine. It's now sponsored by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. The program began 86 years ago to showcase very young creative writers and artists across the United States.

One of the award winners this year is New York City high school senior Eunju Namkung, who received the top award in the personal essay memoire category. She joins us from our New York bureau. Welcome to our program. I'm wondering, you're the daughter of Korean immigrants, has that influenced your writing?

Ms. EUNJU NAMKUNG (Gold Scholastic Art and Writing Award Winner): It's influenced me a lot because not only is it the background I've come from, but because my parents can't speak English, sometimes I find writing is a really good escape. Like, I can write and they wouldn't be able to know what I write.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NAMKUNG: It also is a way to make them proud, I think. Because through my writing I've gotten my voice heard in other places, and I've gotten awards and scholarships. And through that, my parents are, I think they have come to acknowledge, like, I like to do something and I can do something well.

WERTHEIMER: What do they think of your writing? I know that they don't speak English, and I assume they don't read it, either. Did you put the essay in some sort of form that they could read?

Ms. NAMKUNG: Well, I try to read my essays out loud to them sometimes, just so that they can hear it, even though they don't understand. And I like to be heard by my parents even though they don't understand, because, like, I feel like they're the ultimate ears who should be listening to my writing.

WERTHEIMER: The essay that won the gold award is called "Broken Gourd." What does that mean?

Ms. NAMKUNG: Well, in Korean, broken gourd translates to (Korean spoken), which is sometimes what my mom calls me. And it doesn't sound as strange in Korean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. NAMKUNG: But it means kind of like schmuck, not doing exactly the right things, kind of straddling different worlds, not paying attention to the conventional world, as my mom would say it. I use that as a reccurring image in this piece because I thought it tied well with the voice I wanted to portray and how I kind of am seen in my family.

WERTHEIMER: Eunju Namkung is the winner of a Gold Scholastic Art and Writing Award for her personal essay, "Broken Gourd." She's been accepted to Yale on a full scholarship. She joined us from our New York bureau. Eunju, good luck and congratulations.

Ms. NAMKUNG: Thank you.

WERTHEIMER: If you want to read an excerpt of Eunju's essay, take a look at And if you want to see the names of this year's other winners, you'll find a link to the Scholastic Art and Writing Award's Web site.

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