Nathan Cummings, an 18 year old from Mercer Island, WA, wrote his first novel in 5th grade about a race of blue aliens from a faraway star system. Ever since that first novel, he’s been hooked on writing and it still plays a central role in his life today. Last week, Nathan’s writing earned him a national Portfolio Gold Medal in the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards—the nation’s longest running and most prestigious recognition and scholarship program for creative teens. After multiple rounds of judging, first on the regional level and finally by a panel of expert jurors, Nathan’s original writing portfolio was rewarded with top honors, including a $10,000 cash scholarship.
In a way, Nathan’s writing hasn’t changed significantly since that first tale about blue aliens. Today, his stories and poems feature unusual characters, settings and concepts as a way of exploring what lies beyond everyday life. “I am a devotee of the arcane and bizarre,” says Nathan. “My portfolio includes pieces about phantom fish, conjoined twins, and the sheer improbability of the word ‘syzygy.’”
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the nonprofit that administers the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, received over 255,000 submissions this year from students across the country in grades 7-12. Nathan is one of 16 students to receive a Portfolio Gold Medal which is the competition’s highest honor, available to graduating seniors who show originality, impressive technical skill, and unique voice.
No stranger to national recognition, Nathan was appointed by First Lady Michelle Obama in September 2013 as a literary ambassador for the National Student Poets Program, the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work. Since his appointment as a National Student Poet for the West U.S. Region, Nathan has attended conferences and hosted readings, including an event with former Washington State Poet Laureate Kathleen Flenniken. To celebrate National Day on Writing, Nathan joined NWP Radio with Katherine Schulten of the New York Times Learning Network, Millie Davis of the National Council of Teachers of English, and leaders from local writing project sites to discuss the significance of writing to connect in his own work.
“I used to be someone who really did not desire an opportunity to share my work with a larger audience. But, over the past few years, the opportunities that have been afforded to me just by sharing my work, putting it out there on the Internet and connecting with other people who share these interests, have showed me that poetry and connection can really go together in a way that I never would have thought possible,” said Nathan.
Along with his fellow Scholastic Art & Writing Awards Portfolio Gold medalists, Nathan will be recognized onstage at a special awards ceremony at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in June. His writing will then be featured as part of a special two-week exhibit at Parsons The New School For Design and The Pratt Manhattan Gallery, also in New York City.
By Brittany Sullivan, Alliance for Young Artists & Writers