Sam Houston High grad receives $10,000 scholarship with first-place poetry submission

Published 2:40 pm Tuesday, June 22, 2021

By Donna Price

American Press

When recent Sam Houston High School graduate Evelyn Lee entered a poem in the 2021 Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards competition, she didn’t feel overly confident about it.

“I thought, ‘This probably isn’t going to win but I’ll go ahead and submit it anyway,’ she said in a phone interview with the American Press Monday.

It turns out that Lee’s poem, “My Mother Rejected God When She Was 19 But I Don’t Think God Ever Really Got Over It,” placed first in the poetry category of the competition, and netted her a $10,000 scholarship from Penguin Random House, in partnership with We Need Diverse Books.

More than 900 students entered the competition this year, which was open to graduating seniors from public high schools nationwide.

Lee was notified of the win by email.

“I woke up that morning and checked my email first thing and saw that I had won. I cried,” she said.

Lee received one of four first-place $10,000 prizes. The four prizes were awarded in the categories of poetry, fiction and drama, personal essay/memoir and spoken word under the Maya Angelou Award.

In recognition of the Creative Writing Awards previously being focused in New York City where Penguin Random House is headquartered, a fifth $10,000 scholarship was awarded to an entrant from the New York City area.

In addition, more than 70 honorable mentions were awarded to outstanding entries.

Submissions to the competition were given individual consideration via a rigorous scoring process.

Claire von Schilling, Penguin Random House EVP & Director of Corporate Communications and Social Responsibility, said: “As Penguin Random House, we are dedicated to encouraging the next generation of authors and writers. Young writers are our future, and we are proud to partner with We Need Diverse Books to identify and nurture new literary talent and support these inspiring, emerging voices.”

The winners are invited to attend a virtual week of professional development with Penguin Random House this summer. The students will meet with publishing professionals, gain insights into the publishing industry, and receive one-on-one coaching from editors. The week will conclude with an online awards ceremony, and reading of the winners’ work.

Although Lee is now a graduate of Sam Houston High School, she never had much of a chance to spend time there, she said. She moved here from Greensboro, N.C., last year with her family and began her senior year in Moss Bluff. Because of the COVID pandemic, though, all of her classes at Sam Houston High were virtual.

One of the first people she informed of her win was a teacher at her former high school in North Carolina, Jason Bratton, who was among the first to notice and encourage her writing, she said.

Lee, who has been writing poetry since she was 13, plans to attend University of New Orleans and major in English with a concentration in creative writing.

She said she admires the work of poet, writer, activist and educator Olivia Gatwood.