Book Festival Young Writers Award Recipients Announced

JohnCarl McGrady •

NBF 7 05878500

The Nantucket Book Festival gave out its annual young writer essay contest awards on Friday at an opening night celebration that included talks from several bestselling authors and an address by board president Mary Haft.

Nantucket High School Senior Sonia Dhar took the top prize and $500 for her essay The Bowl, which is about the importance of finding beauty even in brokenness, and the connection between a misshapen bowl she crafted in her ceramics class and her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis and eventual death.

Finalists Anna Popnikolova, Sarah Swenson, Goshi Gonzalez, and Maryann Vazquez-Cruz also received prizes of $100 each.
The young writers were asked to “tell a story that illustrates a significant element of your background, interests, or talents” in either prose or poetry. This prompt was inspired by the festival’s visiting author, Elizabeth Acevedo, as her work tends to focus on themes of identity and personal expression. Acevedo is an author and poet who has won both the National Book Award and the Carnegie Medal and is most well known for her young adult novels such as The Poet X.
In her essay, Dhar wrote that after her mother’s death, “many were quick to call me broken, and though I knew I’d heal with time, I never minded the brokenness...I like to think I'll always keep a shard of her with me.”
“It takes courage to put yourself on the page, and our young writers did just that,” Haft said of Dhar and the other finalists.
Popnikolova wrote a poem in both English and Bulgarian about her experience as a Bulgarian immigrant attempting to hold on to her cultural heritage, while Swenson wrote about her love of reading, Gonzalez his struggles with alienation, and Vazquez-Cruz her attempt to bridge the cultural divide between western medicine and traditional remedies. In total, 19 students submitted essays to the contest, all of which are available online at the Nantucket Book Festival Website.
After the presentation of the awards, three bestselling authors gave speeches about their own identities and backgrounds. They also spoke about the importance of literature and writing, with Azar Nafisi, bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, telling the audience that “literature resists indifference.”

This year marked the 10th annual Nantucket Book Festival, and the young writer’s award has long been a staple of its programming. Many young writers have submitted pieces all four years of high school and have even been recognized as finalists multiple times. Popnikolova won the contest last year, though there was no award ceremony as a result of the pandemic, and both Dhar and Vazquez-Cruz have also received awards as finalists in past years.

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