In early September, sophomore Gabrielle Avena entered the 2018 Texas Teen Book Festival “We Need Diverse Books” essay contest with her piece titled “Yearning to Breathe Free”. The essay contest, “The Hero I Want to See”, focuses on the lack of diversity in books that teens are reading and prompts participants to talk about the kinds of protagonists that they would like to read about. After two weeks of eager anticipation, the results were announced and Avena was announced as one of the 30 winners.

     Avena first learned about the contest through English teacher Sara-Jane Sheppard, who emailed her over the summer to encourage her to enter the competition.

     “Ms. Sheppard has always been really good about getting me involved with writing activities that I really enjoy,” Avena said. “I’m more grateful for her support than words can convey.”

     In the weeks following the contest, after not receiving a congratulatory email during the time period in which winners were supposed to be notified, Avena had little expectations of winning and was surprised with the good news when the emails were sent out later.

     “If you want a bit of flowery prose you could say bits of [disbelief, exhilaration] skyrocketed my heart into the stratosphere,” Avena joked. “If you want a normal, more literal response you could also say I was an incoherent mess for the rest of the evening.”

     The prompt of the essay contest asked writers to describe what they each would like to see as a representation of themselves, and as a result Avena’s essay was written not to give a message to the public, but to send a message to herself.

     “The central issue of my essay is one I question constantly, and I think writing in such a forceful and confident way helped me accept its very existence,” Avena explained. “I don’t imagine that my essay will somehow inspire an author to write a solution to my problem; that seems more to me like something I’ll have to do myself.”

     The success of her writing in this competition has provided Avena with a sense of validation, not only in her writing itself but in the subject of her writing as well.

     “The knowledge that there’s really something here, that it’s enough to go even or only this far, it gives me hope that fuels my will to continue,” Avena said.

     Writing is an important aspect of Avena’s daily life in more ways than might meet the eye: previous works and authors have lent a hand to her character and her passion for writing, and she fully intends to pursue it as a career.

     “More than expression, it’s communication,” Avena said. “Compared to the complexities of more regular human interaction, speaking through written words has a level of control that I greatly prefer. Above all, writing allows me to let go of my anxieties and be a more honest person.”

Written by Jade Berry, News Editor