In March, the Burlington High School senior was one of sixteen talented young artists and writers from across the country chosen as a Scholastic Arts & Writing Portfolio Gold Medal Winner. The prestigious award, which dates back to 1923, recognizes creative leaders in grades 7 through 12. Hassan's submission consisted of poems, a short story and a memoir, all of which were inspired by her family's Somali roots.
In her artist's statement, Hassan reflects on her writing: "I want to convey through my works a sort of transgenerational trauma that all immigrants and the children of immigrants feel. I want to show longing and heartbreak, melancholy and violence through my writing, but I also want to show hope. Hope for new beginnings, hope for learning to love a place as much as the place you were born in."
In 2006, Edil's Somali parents immigrated to the United States from the United Arab Emirates, where they had moved in the 1980s, before the civil war broke out in Somalia. Hassan was born soon after they arrived in the U.S. She says her parents chose to settle in Burlington because they had friends in Vermont and they'd heard it was a nice place to live, with good schools and little crime.
In one of her award-winning pieces, "My Mother's Stories in Me," Edil writes about what it's like to grow up in a country so different from the one where her parents and grandparents grew up. "I hear the distance when speaking the language of my parents, in the pauses I have to take as I struggle to find the right words, my American accent slipping out all the while," she writes. "I feel it again when my grandmother tells me stories of Moqdishu, and I know that I will never experience them myself, even more so because the places she speaks of have been bombed and reduced to rubble."
Edil's creative-writing teacher, Eve Berinati, praised her work. "The narrative voice in Edil's work is mature, compassionate and heartbreakingly honest," she said. "She writes from her own experience and the experiences of those she is close to, so it gives a very intimate picture of what it feels like to be those people... there is a poetic quality, even to her prose, that is light and dark at the same time."
More than 300,000 works of art and writing were submitted to the competition. They were judged based on three criteria — originality, technical skill and emergence of personal vision or voice. Edil says she entered simply because she wanted to prove something to herself. "I was surprised and a little in shock," she says of finding out she was a winner.
As a portfolio gold medal winner, Edil will receive a $10,000 college scholarship. She's been accepted to the University of Vermont, Northeastern University and New York University — colleges she applied to because of their strong nursing programs — and is weighing her options. She hopes to become a nurse practitioner one day, specializing in the field of public or international health.
In June, she'll gather with other winners in New York City, to attend a series of events in their honor, including an awards ceremony at Carnegie Hall.
"I hope she will inspire more of our students at BHS to write, and to keep working at the craft of writing, and to share their writing with the world," says Berinati. "I came to BHS hoping I would be able to support students from all walks of life in finding their voices and sharing their experiences. Edil's success is a dream come true."
Read more of Edil Hassan's work on the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers blog.
Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Stephen King and Lena Dunham all received Scholastic Arts & Writing awards when they were teens. Now, Edil Hassan can count herself as a member of that gifted group.