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Leah Lierz of Indian Land had a great week recently.
Not only did Lierz graduate May 25 from the state’s most prestigious arts high school, the Governor’s School in Greenville, the following Friday, June 1, she was recognized as one of the best young writers in the country during a ceremony at New York’s Carnegie Hall, no less – and two days before her 18th birthday.
As a National Gold Medal winner of the Scholastic Art & Writing Award, Lierz received a $10,000 scholarship.
In winning the award, Lierz joins a roster of past teen winners that includes such legendary American writers as Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote and Joyce Carol Oates.
Artists Andy Warhol, actor Robert Redford, filmmaker Ken Burns and photographer Richard Avedon are also among the award’s many other illustrious past winners.
“It’s definitely awesome; sometimes, I still don’t know what to think about it,” Lierz said. “It’s crazy. That’s the only way I can put it.
“Those are some big shoes to fill.”
Sponsored by the Alliance for Young Writers & Artists, the Scholastic Art & Writing Award has honored writers in grades seven through 12 since 1923. This year’s contest had about 200,000 entrants from across the country with fewer than 20 winning gold medals.
The contest includes 17 art categories, ranging from architecture to sculpture to video game design; and 11 writing categories, including such forms as dramatic script writing, journalism, short story, essay and poetry.
Lierz won her gold medal in the “writing portfolio” category with a collection of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. She also won a silver award for poetry and an honorable mention for one of her short stories.
Lierz is the daughter of Donna Lierz of Indian Land and David Lierz of Charlotte.
Her mother said they are extremely proud of Leah for her win, and are not really all that surprised.
She said her daughter showed creative promise from an early age, her love of writing and fascination with the magic it held spurred, in part, by her father’s own love of reading and writing.
By the time her daughter got to school age, Donna Lierz said, she was already devoting a considerable amount of time to the art-form.
“She’s always had such a good imagination,” Donna Lierz said. “When she was little, the stories she wrote were amazing. Sometimes her stories are so heartfelt, other times she wrote her thoughts.
“As time went on, it became more of a release for her, so she’d sit and write. When things bothered her, she’d write; when she was bored, she’d write,” she said. “I’m telling you, I wish I was even half as smart and creative as that child.”
During her sophomore year at Indian Land High School, Lierz’s talents as a writer got her accepted to the highly regarded Governor’s School’s creative writing program. She started her junior year there, one of only 12 students chosen each year to attend the residential writing program.
Lierz said the creative atmosphere, the friendships with other talented student writers and instruction from the school’s teachers, all of whom are award-winning and nationally published authors, helped her focus and hone her skills, and taught her finer points of the art-form she’d never considered before.
Truth be told, Lierz said, she and every other creative writing program senior submitted their portfolios to the Scholastic Art & Writing contest as part of a routine class assignment.
With classmates hailing largely from big cities such as Charleston and Columbia, Lierz said the win made her, “a girl from small town Indian Land, South Carolina,” feel like she was doing something worthwhile.
“Since I go to school with so many people who are such talented writers, it ... I don’t know, it’s kind of embarrassing ... it kind of validates what I’m doing,” Lierz said. “Over the years, I kept wondering if I’m getting any better, so the contest showed me I am getting better,” she said. “It definitely motivates me, kind of helps make me feel like it’s worth something – and it’s nice to know other people like my work and it’s not just me.”
In deciding what she was going to do after graduation, Lierz passed up scholarships at Tulane and Ole Miss and chose to attend the University of South Carolina’s honors college on a full scholarship.
While she’s still not exactly sure what she wants to do for a living, she knows one thing for sure.
“I feel like whatever I do, I’m going to write,” she said.
Lierz’s writing will be featured, along with the works of other Scholastic Art & Writing Award winners, in the Art & Writing National Exhibition June 1-16 in New York, followed by a national tour.
Her work will also be published in the annual Scholastic Writing Award publication, “The Best Teen Writing.”
For an excerpt from one of Lierz’s non-fiction pieces, visit http://blog.artandwriting.org/2012/05/11/eyes-on-the-prize-batrek-yassa-....