Welcome back, campers –
I’m very excited to bring you today’s contest winner, 16-year-old Sophia Gorgens, grand prize winner of the Author! Author! Award for Junior Expressive Excellence. Congratulations, Sophia, and may this be the first of many literary honors in a long and illustrious writing career!
That immense ruminating noise you hear out there in the ether, Sophia, is the sound of literally millions of your elders grinding their teeth in regret that they didn’t (a) believe in their own talent when they were your age, (b) have the internet to showcase it if they had, and (c) possess the confidence to send their work out then. So huge kudos from all of us here at Author! Author! for having the incredible courage to write and submit this particular short story; would that every talented teenage writer were as brave as you.
Or spelled as well, bless your heart. Or had as firm a grasp of complex grammar that, frankly, eludes many a gifted adult author. Heck, it eludes many a published author.
Trust me on that one. There’s a reason that copyeditors make pretty good living.
As if that weren’t enough of a virtuoso (virtuosa?) performance, Sophia’s managed to tuck a darned good formal essay into the middle of her short story. The judges got a big kick out of her essentially submitting both a fiction and nonfiction entry. Admittedly, they got a bit more of a kick out of how much most of their own high school teachers would have objected to the basic premise of this story, as well as envisioning what might have happened had they turned in such a story to any of their high school English or civics teachers.
See the comment above about older authors wishing they had your guts, Sophia.
So please join me in welcoming a young writer I suspect will be continuing to surprise and delight us for years to come. We’re privileged to hear this promising voice here first, and I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled to witness her initiation into the community of writers. I think it’s going to be a more interesting place now that she’s in it.
Take it away, Sophia!
A single tear trickled down the sad and crumpled face, carving a path in the layer of grime and dust. Matt, a boy of thirteen, bit back his sob while wiping the tear angrily away. Men did not cry.
He panted heavily as he continued to shovel away furiously at the hard packed earth. The hole he was standing in was already three or four feet deep. He wouldn’t have to dig much longer.
At his side lay a cheap wooden box made crudely out of plywood. Wood was scarce now, but Matt felt that Leal deserved whatever luxury he could procure. Here, in his barren and dirty backyard, with darkness falling fast, Matt could hardly see the coffin anymore, but he couldn’t keep himself from picturing his beautiful Labrador retriever, old and worn, in that cold coffin.
It was not like his day could get much worse, Matt decided gruffly. His English paper had been returned to him with an F for “inappropriate content” although all it had really said was that the rights of the students were being utterly repressed at his school. That paper, averaged to the rest of his rebellious collection, averaged his grade out to a D. His father would not be happy when he heard about this.
Matt’s eyes were brimming with unshed tears of anger and grief. He thrust the shovel into the dirt aggressively, determined to forget his troubles. The shovel, driven into the ground with force, clunked against something.
Angrier still for this complication, Matt began to dig around what he knew must be a rock. His anger dissolved when he realized he could use the stone as a grave marker for Leal. If nobody knew, he might even be able to write something on it.
Excited, Matt eagerly dug the stone out and lifted it out of the hole. Only then did he notice, catching his first real glimpse of it in the dying light, that it was not a rock at all but a small metal box. Matt felt a sting of disappointment, but he was determined not to let it ruin his friend’s funeral.
After he had lowered the coffin into the deep hole, Matt filled the grave with a feeling of dread. Each shovelful of dirt flung onto that wooden box was shutting Leal out from the world of life and light with a finality that was hard to avoid. Not even the handful of daisies that Matt placed reverently on the fresh earth could ease the sense that he was abandoning his friend.
Dragging his feet, Matt returned to his one story house which he shared with his dad. With the shovel slung over his shoulder and the strange metal box tucked under his arm, Matt began to wonder for the first time what the box might contain. It would be easy enough to open, for it had only a simple latch to keep it closed. A curious box indeed.
After he had taken a shower, Matt lay under the sheets of his bed with the box, cleaned under the heavy jet of the shower, in front of him. It almost seemed to be looking back at him out of two flower-like eyes that blended in with the decorative carvings in the box. Turning it over, he saw a tiny set of letters in the far right corner.
Made in China ©2008
2008? Matt stared at the box in amazement. That was over two hundred years old! He wondered eagerly what it could contain, then bit his lip in hesitation, his hand already on the lid. He was supposed to be in mourning, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t enjoy himself, did it? Tentatively, he lifted open the lid.
An old pen (who used those things nowadays, anyway?), a marble figurine of a dog, a faded picture (it wasn’t digital!), and a small stack of papers met his eyes. Taped on the inside of the lid was a piece of paper that declared it to be “Lauren’s Time Capsule, 2008.”
Well, that wasn’t very exciting, Matt thought as he flipped gloomily through the paper stack. There was an article on the government, clearly cut out from a newspaper, and a paper written by Lauren apparently on… censorship? Matt was momentarily baffled, but then he saw the neatly scribbled note from the teacher, congratulating her on her improvement and giving her an A minus for the overall paper. She must have been proud of the work, Matt decided.
Carefully separating the paper from the article and tossing the paper clip aside, he began to read.
The Constitution of the United States of America [he read] includes the right to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and expression in the Bill of Rights. Throughout history, cases such as Brandenburg v. Ohio in 1969 and New York Times v. US in 1971 expanded these rights, but many of the privileges expressed in the first amendment do not apply to underage student. An attempt to expand the rights of students was made in 1969 in the case of Tinker v. Des Moines, but it has done little to curtail the power of schools and adults to restrict the freedom of speech for students. The cases of Bethel and Hazelwood, for instance, allowed administrators to censor student speeches containing sexual language and student newspapers that contained “sensitive” material. Children and young adults who are still in the developing stages of their life are, in the Court’s opinion, often in a separate category than adults when freedom of speech and press is concerned.
Underage students do not yet have the right to vote and can therefore not vote for a new law to be passed to help their cause. For young people to therefore change policy, they must rely on presenting a case to the court and having a particular law or restriction overturned. However, most students do not have the financial means or commitment (as some cases take years to go through the court system) to challenge every unreasonable restriction placed on them, resulting in censorship on essays, school magazines or newspapers, and general self-expression. Students must conform their essays in a way that dulls the sharp edge of individuality. They thus must fall into the conventional pattern the school establishes for them so that thoughts expressed in their works are not theirs at all but the school’s. How can the public, parents or otherwise, understand what these young people truly think if, upon picking up a school newspaper or listening to a student speech, they learn only what the administration, the “editors,” think?
Schools are not the only problem point in our society for young, underage adults. Contests and blogs also often have restrictions on what young people can and can’t write. The requirement of no vile language, for example, hampers the author who thinks a character must swear for effect. Even if the author were to swear incessantly and use the crudest language, it should be their choice to write this and those who are opposed to the style of writing should simply not read it. However, this brings up the point of necessary censorship, rules, and restrictions. How will a person know what contains excessive inappropriate language? It would not be unreasonable to have an author’s note of warning in these cases. Rules can again be helpful and even desirable in formatting unless, as is it may be in a poem, individual formatting is necessary to express the mood of the poem. Otherwise, unitary formatting makes it easy for judges, fellow writers and readers, as well as potential publishers to read.
The most gruesome and erroneous type of censorship [Matt noticed a smiley face from the teacher here because of the interesting word choice] is the subtle censorship that society imposes on young a blossoming writers. Society is an expectant tiger waiting to pounce on those who stray from the path of conformity. In Dead Poets Society, for example, a group of boys who show a spark of individualism are berated by not only the school administrators but also by fellow students and parents. The mob-like mentality of people infuses them with a desire to please society. For young authors, this means writing about what friends think are “cool” topics and perhaps even developing a style that is pleasing to peers. The mind becomes restricted by invisible barriers and the desire to live up to one’s own expectations as well as society’s.
Whether it’s in the rules established by schools and other institutions or the yearning to fit into society, young writers often show the world a different side of who they really are, a fabrication of sorts. Fused together by the ideas of others and restrictions in our society, this fabrication can never convey to the public what the young populace think, feel, or want.
Matt put the paper down with a sigh. He had always thought the future he lived in was a better place, more advanced with its hover cars and reusable fuel cells, but it appeared that when one really examined the facts, censorship and restrictions on the freedom of writing for teenagers had always existed in one form or another. And with a society as protective and majoritarian as America’s was, he suspected it always would.
Sophia Gorgens was born in Washington D.C to German diplomats Lutz and Ulrike Gorgens. Along with her family, including two brothers and an older sister, she moved to Bonn, Germany; Boston, Massachusetts; Ankara, Turkey; and Atlanta, Georgia, where she currently resides. Sophia has acquired a love for traveling and has visited over twenty countries and most of the United States. She is currently attending Woodward Academy high school as a rising junior. She enjoys reading, writing, skiing, participating in marching band, and spending time with her Bernese Mountain dog and cat. She has started bee-keeping and quilts in her remaining free time. She is currently working on two novels, Dagger: A Horse’s Tale and Rebel Angels.