2024 Festival:
October 21–27

2023 Season

Youth Writing Contest

Youth Writing Contest

 

Every year, the Vancouver Writers Fest launches a youth writing contest for short stories and personal essays in spring. These contests are judged by esteemed members of the Vancouver literary community. A total of four cash prizes and publication in our newsletter are awarded each year. Many winners have subsequently had their works published—either by a publisher or in major literary journals.

The 2023 Youth Writing Contest has closed. Thank you to all who submitted their stories! This year, we organized two writing contests for students in British Columbia: one for grades 5-7 and the other for grades 8-12. The Elementary School Contest was judged by Jamie Fong, the Children’s Librarian at Vancouver Public Library and the High-school Contest was judged by Shannon Ozirny, the Head of Youth Services at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. The winners of the 2023 contest and their winning submissions are linked below.

The Youth Writing Contest is presented thanks to the generous support of the Emily Carr University of Art + Design.

Youth Writing Contest Judges

Shannon Ozirny is the Head of Youth Services at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. She has taught a children’s materials course as an adjunct at the UBC iSchool, reviewed young adult books for The Globe and Mail and contributes regularly to Quill & Quire as a feature reviewer of picture books. She has served as a juror for the BC and Yukon Book Prizes, Canadian Children’s Book Centre Best Books and Odyssey audiobook awards and moderates kidlit events for the Vancouver Writers Fest and Kidsbooks.

Jamie Fong is a life-long supporter and patron of public libraries, starting his library career in high school as a student page at the Edmonton Public Library. Since 2013, he’s been a Children’s Librarian at Vancouver Public Library. He is a former committee member of the Young Readers’ Choice Awards Society of BC, home of the Red Cedar Book Awards. Fong also recently sat on the Canadian selection committee for the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) third edition of The World Through Picture Books, a publication of favourite picture books recommended by librarians from around the world.

Contest Rules

1. The elementary school youth writing contest is open to all writers in grades 5-7 who are attending a school or being taught in a home-school environment in British Columbia.

2. The high school youth writing contest is open to all writers in grades 8-12 who are attending a school or being taught in a home-school environment in British Columbia.

3. Entries will be accepted for previously unpublished short stories and personal essays: 1,000 word limit (for elementary school student submissions) and 1,500 (for high-school student submissions).

4. Entries are judged blind. Please do not put your name anywhere in the file you upload or in the file name.

5. Entries must be submitted in MS Word (DOC or DOCX)  or PDF formats. Please use standard margins, 12-point font and double spacing.

6. Prizes:

a. Elementary – First prize winner receives $100 and publication in our Books & Ideas Newsletter, plus social media shout-out; Second prize winner receives $50 and publication in our Books & Ideas Newsletter

b. High school – First prize winner receives $200 and publication in our Books & Ideas Newsletter, plus social media shout-out; Second prize winner receives $100 and publication in our Books & Ideas Newsletter

The 2023 contest has closed. Next year’s contest will be announced in March 2024.

 

2023 Winners

High School Winners

1st Prize winner: ‘Bones’ by Millicent Sharman, York House School, Vancouver 

Shannon Ozirny: “The author of this moving personal essay weaves together a childhood injury, a gift from a grandparent and some profound thoughts on paleontology into a highly readable, deeply wise piece. The writer uses natural, conversational language that manages to be both poetic and propulsive while making connections that are wholly original. Just gorgeous.”

2nd Prize winner: ‘No Evidence of Struggle’ by Asma Merchant, Moscrop Secondary School, Burnaby

Shannon Ozirny: “Like an astonishing magic trick, this is one of those short, thrilling stories with a totally rewarding twist that you want to re-read as soon as you’re finished with it, just to see how the writer pulled the wool over your eyes (make sure to also watch out for the second, surprisingly tender little twist that the writer masterfully sets up, too). This is murder most magnificent.”

Shannon Ozirny, judge of the 2022 High School Writing Contest, is the Head of Youth Services at the West Vancouver Memorial Library. This was her fourth year judging the high school contest and this is what she thought of this year’s submissions: Each year I judge this contest, I know the number of young writers who don’t win, but who will go on to be talented, successful professionals, grows. I can’t tell you how exciting it is to see all this promise, from little glimmers of potential to all-out perfect pieces that are just as good (if not better) as what you’ll find on the current bestseller list. You could easily put together a full VWF 2038 roster just from this year’s entries. Congratulations to all.

Elementary School Winners

1st Prize winner: ‘The Finish Line: The Harry Jerome Story’ by Rose Zhou-Radies, Kerrisdale Elementary, Vancouver

Jamie Fong: “Of the nearly 200 entries, this story stood out for a number of reasons, not least being it was the only illustrated story of the bunch. As a Children’s Librarian who reads a lot of picture books, I can say that writing for picture books is a deceptively complex skill to combine images and text to tell an effective story in a limited amount of space, which the creator of this work has indeed achieved. Inspired by historical events, the author shines a spotlight on the story of Black Canadian track & field athlete Harry Jerome who was, for a period of time, the fastest man in the whole world. The author dramatizes Harry Jerome’s emotions and inner thoughts in a way that’s relatable to any young reader who has participated in a sports competition. I liked the creative layouts of the words and pictures. I can’t speak to the historical accuracy of this story since I don’t know the full history myself, but the little details woven throughout the story certainly ring true. I’d be interested to hear about the author’s research process and how they chose which events were key to the story they were aiming to tell. I appreciated that the illustration of Harry Jerome’s silhouette on the last page mirrors his pose that is immortalized in the bronze statue of him that you can visit in Stanley Park. I’d really love to see this story fleshed out and polished into an actual book on our library shelves someday!”

2nd Prize winner: ‘The Hero, Plankton’ by Olivia Heywood, Stratford Hall, Vancouver

Jamie Fong: “I have a soft spot for underdog stories and I really liked this story of the tiny and overlooked plankton embarking on a quest to ask the Sun, Moon, and Earth to bring light to all the deep-sea creatures. It has the quality of a classic fable, reminiscent of one of Kipling’s Just-So Stories explaining how plankton became bioluminescent. I like the personification of the Sun as having a nurturing, caring side and a hot, blazing temper depending on their mood. Reading this story even inspired me to read up more about actual plankton and why certain types of plankton glow. Well done!”

Jamie Fong is the 2022 Elementary School Contest judge, and the Children’s Librarian at Vancouver Public Library. He had this to say about the submissions for the Elementary contest: The number of entries this year was almost overwhelming, so thank you and congratulations to everyone who took the time to submit their writing. In my second year as a judge, it’s a fascinating snapshot into the minds of current grade 5 to 7s. The stories covered a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, action, nature fiction, school drama, and more than a couple horror stories (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading). The best ones found a way to effectively and economically tell a complete story. A common challenge I noticed was the writer trying to stuff an epic multi-volume saga into just 2 or 3 pages. There’s not enough space or words! There were an unusual amount of stories that ended with the protagonist waking up from a dream, which makes me curious about why that ending appeared repeatedly! There were many well-written, poetic, and evocative stories, which made it a real struggle to narrow it down to the final two. Ultimately with so many entries and common themes, it really takes an original story or special voice to stand out. I hope all our young writers continue to hone their creative writing efforts!