Scholastic Art & Writing Awards

Eyes on the Prize: Julie Wang & Sarena Kuhn

Brittany Sullivan  //  May 11, 2018

Eyes on the Prize: Julie Wang & Sarena Kuhn

Every year, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in grades 7–12, recognizes 16 high school seniors who receive the program’s highest national honor, the Gold Medal Portfolio, which includes a $10,000 scholarship.

Leading up to the national celebration in New York City this June, the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers will spotlight two Gold Medal Portfolio recipients on their blog each week. This week, they’re celebrating Julie Wang, an artist from Irvine, CA, and Sarena Kuhn, a writer from Los Alamitos, CA.

Scroll down to learn more about Julia and Sarena’s nationally recognized portfolios and to see excerpts of their exceptional work!

Julie Wang

When describing her portfolio of drawing & illustration, mixed media, painting, and sculpture pieces, Julie says, “My artwork explores both the mechanical and naturalistic aspects of the visual world surrounding me. Throughout works, rectilinear forms are juxtaposed with curvilinear forms, synthetic colors with lifelike ones, and man-made objects with biological renderings. As an artist, I perceive the world as a duality and I wish to capture that dualism through my paintings, drawings, and sculptures. I am motivated by challenges and an artistic discomfort. I have found that I am the most creative when I am uncomfortable, when faced with invigorating uncertainty and copious possibilities. When speaking, I begin my sentences without knowing how it will end. Art is like that to me. I enjoy its unpredictable potential. Even if I have a planned out work, the finishing product will not always end up like the image in my head, but that is how life is—with its twists and turns. Art is one of the few subjects that allows me to bask in a state of directionless diversity.”

Sarena Kuhn

Sarena’s writing portfolio, titled “Stories I Might Tell When I Have a Daughter” features short stories, flash fiction, dramatic script, poetry, personal essay, and memoir works. She explains, “My father was the one who first introduced me to storytelling, as he would tell me fantasies or personal narratives or movie synopses before I went to sleep each night. Just like the ones my father used to tell me, the stories in this collection feature a wide range of topics that matter to me, drawing influence from both personal experience and imagination. For me, writing gives me a chance for free expression; it allows me to say any words I desire to say without having to worry about how others will respond. I write to discover more about myself and the world that I live in.”

In the Orchard

Flash Fiction. By Sarena Kuhn, Grade 12, Age 17.

Beneath a raggedy Band-Aid, her bare skin feels nothing but the scratch of cotton and a tap of a leaf now settled upon her right knee. As she perches upon her personal mountain, two strong arms strap her ankles down to earth. She pulls his hair and giggles, squinting through the lazy sunlight of a day half-passed. The most luscious green surrounds them and she quickly thanks God for deciding to put this grass into the ground just the perfect spot so she could, whenever she desired: look at it, do cartwheels in it, and have picnics with her older sister. Air passes and greets them with a brisk wave that sweeps them, envelops them into the embrace of a yawning Autumn who saunters about the valley. She is still smiling. Such little hands suspend before her almond eyes, and she runs them through her own hair, wondering why the curly strands falling from her scalp are red and not brown like Daddy’s. So she almost leans down to ask him but catches sudden wonder in a hummingbird zipping by.

Daddy asks, but not at all impatiently, Aren’t you going to pick one? and she is giggling again. She wears a denim dress with the stain of blueberry jam visible not as a blemish but a treasured brooch. Her almond eyes delicately rest upon well-established colonies of freckles. Sometimes before she goes to sleep she peers into the mirror and imagines they are stars with their own constellations and myths.

Her right arm raises with the slightest bit of wiggle—just a little baby fat, which Mama assures will go away soon enough. She almost shivers as her naked elbow kisses the afternoon wind. It rests just inches beyond those fingers—just inches. A little heave and stretch and she’s reaching beyond, beyond toward the target she has chosen.

She grasps the sphere and grunts softly as it leaps to her from the tree. And now both hands cradle the jewel in awe. A red without passion, anger, power or lust—no, simply a red as innocent as the color was intended. Hungrily she stares at the apple as if to devour the fruit while still preserving its untouchable elegance. What on Earth could be more wonderful than this red she could caress from upon her father’s shoulders? Somehow deep inside she knows that the first bite will ruin candy forever, will ruin any sweetness that dares to rival this moment. In seconds this apple and its mystery will be lost forever. If only time could stop at this second and stay there forever! If only this apple would never spoil! If only she could never grow up.

Gently, hesitantly, she raises the fruit to the lips that Mama smeared with Vaseline just this morning. Eyes closed, her teeth sink slowly into the apple’s precious flesh as a splash of juice lands upon her cheek. She seals the scene with a brisk snap and crunch.

How gloriously simple and sweet.

To see more Gold Medal Portfolio recipients, past and present, visit the Eyes on the Prize series on the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog.

© Alliance for Young Artists & Writers/Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Used with permission.