The Penguin Random House Creative Writing Awards recognizes the unique vision and voices of New York City high school seniors with scholarship awards. The Competition further supports student writers throughout the writing process with in-school programs and teacher training.
In 1993, immediately after establishing its world headquarters in New York City, Bertelsmann sought innovative ways to give back to the city that offered such a wealth of creative talent. Among its many philanthropic ventures was the Bertelsmann Foundation's World of Expression Scholarship Program, designed to encourage, support and reward young writers and musicians growing up in this cultural capital.
The program began with scholarship awards for excellence in literary and musical expression and then quickly expanded to include programs that would foster that expression. Fall workshops in public high schools across the city offered a jolt of creativity to high school seniors, jumpstarting students to create original work. Classroom teachers clamored for materials that would help them infuse creative writing into the classroom; World of Expression teaching artists responded with a booklet of lesson plans and staff development workshops for teachers and administrators. A summer writing program for juniors offered an intensive course for developing writers. The World of Expression website provided access to writing and music-related resources for teachers and students year-round.
The Program Today
Twenty-two years later, and known as the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Competition, the commitment is apparent. Program winners have gone on to study at a wide variety of colleges and universities around the country, from Harvard to City University of New York. Many have also continued their education at trade or technical schools.
This year, the program will award over $100,000 in scholarships to public high school students for original poetry, memoir, fiction, drama and graphic novel compositions. In addition, the program brings together prominent New York City educators, teaching artists, community leaders, authors and industry professionals (including Penguin Random House executives) to inspire, guide, read, judge and celebrate the work of 1,300 student writers discovering their own unique voices.
Immensely popular writing workshops have continued since 1995 and are held in over fifty public high school classrooms. Appropriately titled the "WRITE NOW!" workshops, teaching artists share their work with students and then lead the class in accessible and fun exercises that produce new writing then and there. The sponsoring classroom teacher receives a four-lesson plan follow-up to the initial workshop that guides students to further develop and finish a piece for submission to the competition. To inspire the teachers and provide the much needed enthusiasm and confidence many kids need to trust their own voices and write from their hearts, Penguin Random House. offers writing journals and complimentary books for students, as well as class sets of curriculum-based books for teachers.
Weekly e-mails offer additional outreach for seniors and teachers who participate in the "WRITE NOW!" workshops. The RHCWC Weekly Writer Web Tips are chock full of ideas for writing and revising in every genre, and offer ideas for college applications and listings of events, competitions and publishing opportunities for young writers. The Weekly Tips also provide structure and contest deadline reminders for students at every stage of the creative process.
In addition to all of this support for seniors, this past year marked the third year of a summer writer's workshop for select students participating in the program. This intensive, six-day writing course included "majors" in poetry, memoir, drama and fiction, and enabled twenty-five young writers to develop and publish creative work. Led by New York City-based teaching artists, and Penguin Random House executives and authors, students were able to learn about writing from the perspectives of the writer, publisher and educator. Upon completion of the residency, students celebrated their work by reading from their newly published works at an informal luncheon hosted by Penguin Random House.
Each of the twenty-two years the Competition has spent working in New York City public schools has offered further proof of the need for such programs. Young people are hungry for the chance to express themselves, and to learn how to get the thoughts in their minds down on the page. Classroom teachers, often overwhelmed by trying to bring every one of 150 students up to the current standards, are equally hungry for new ideas and support. Administrators are eager for programs that will train teachers to provide opportunities for student-centered student writing — and that will keep school culture centered on creativity. And Random House staff and authors are eager to not only bring their own skills and expertise to schools, but to learn from staff and students.
Penguin Random House Creative Writing Competition Competition is devoted to enabling access to these programs, especially for under-represented student populations. As the program for New York City public high school students expands to reach more students — and, in some cases, to reach small groups of students more intensively — projects are in the works to bring these successful programs to other American cities which host Random House operations. In this way, each Random House office cannot only be a center of creativity for its employees and authors, it can also bring that same creative force to the schools and communities that surround it.
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