Another year to celebrate the Young Authors. This was my fifth year of being involved with this event in the California Writers Club.
Preparation started in early April by reading the submitted stories. Then, came discussing with other judges and finally the day when we could see the faces behind those winning stories. Before that we had no way of knowing their names.
This time it was a virtual event. Students came and read from their pieces. We displayed their portraits with quotes from their winning pieces and it was marvelous. But the in person interactions we had before, before the Covid era, had a unique charm.
I remember Zuri from an earlier event. Her winning story was about a sibling relationship of an autistic brother and sister.
“You are Zuri! I read your story.” I said, as I handed her the name tag. “We , all six judges, felt your story deserved the First prize.” I smiled.
The girl, with a headful of cornrow braids, lowered her eyes and bowed her head so low it almost touched her chest. She looked around as if she was searching for a place to hide, crawl under the table or something.
But her mom beamed and her teacher, Mr.S.Somebody glistened with a broad smile through his dense white beard.
“Zuri, look at her. Say, thank you.” Mom nudged and apologized, “So shy!” She shook head.
“Shy people write best.” I said, and left.
There is so much to this writing life, I thought. The writer- self differs so much from the real one that everyone sees. Zuri is so shy in person, but not on paper. Later, her mom confided, turning her face both ways, making sure Zuri was not around and said, “God knows where she gets those ideas.” She giggled and then, cupping her mouth,
“People who read her stories may think, '' Is the family okay? Does the mother really abuse her like that? Phew! She has no brother, for heavens’ sake, you know. She is my only child.” Mom rolled her eyes.
I knew exactly what she meant. And to some extent how Zuri feels too.
While she needs to let those imaginary characters free from her chest, she has to stop thinking about how others judge her. Many things she writes are vividly true, while much comprises lies. She has to weave lies to tell the truth. That’s the beauty of writing fiction and the only obligation as a writer — to reveal the truth.
Oh, Zuri, for this you may lose friends and loved ones.They may misunderstand when your muse takes you by the hand to a world that doesn’t exist for them but you lose yourself in it. Friends may ignore you or hurt you with harsh comments. They may not be the people who you thought will read your book. They may not understand your hard work or your imaginary world.
Doesn’t matter. You’re on the right track not letting yourself be blown away with prizes and awards. Stay steadfast, my young friend, and don’t let neglect, silence, and harsh comments crush you either. Your writer’s soul is much pure and delicate. Polish it, hone the craft. It’s a solitary journey.
Tell us the stories of those who are suffering or the funny ones. Bring hope to the world, for you have the softness in your heart to feel, the strength in your voice to speak up and the gift in your pen.
Crawl inside your shell if that is a better place for you to thrive. Just keep writing. We are waiting.