Last spring, I was invited to be a judge for the Mosaic writing contest, hosted by Friends of the Library (Montgomery County MD).  This annual contest is held in partnership with the local schools and encourages middle schoolers to express their cultural identity through creative writing.

I was assigned about 40 pieces of student writing – poems, short stories, personal essays – to read and score. It felt like being back in the classroom again.

What struck out to me was not — as you might expect in a writing contest — the advanced skill level of the students. Admittedly, some of them were written in what may be defined as grade-appropriate skill level English, evidence of students in a new country, learning English as their second language, as was the subject of many of the student writings. What made me smile, laugh, and tugged at my heart a little bit was the honesty and the true emotions that the students expressed, whether in simple sentence structure or complex clauses and phrases.  The theme of “My Culture” was presented as stories about family, imagining returning home, celebrating holidays, getting used to a new home, and many many other creative turns.

Each were a unique display of the children’s personality, as well as their journey through identifying with their own culture. It was a special opportunity for me to read the work of these young people.

Last week, I received the printed collection of the winning submissions.This young anthology represents many students and their special courage to not only write about their personal experiences, but also to submit personal writing to be judged in a writing contest.

Congratulations to the winners, as well as all the students who extended themselves enough to enter.  I hope you continue to write for yourself and for others.

Find more information about the Mosaic Writing Contest, the winners, and how to buy a copy of the book online.