Iris Hwang ‘20 (seen here in History class, second from right) won two National Gold Medals from the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards one for her short story, “The Interpreter,” which she wrote in Mr. Torrey's Creative Writing I at St. Andrew's; the other for a poem she wrote while attending the Iowa Young Writers' Studio in Iowa City last summer. The Scholastic Awards recognize student art and writing that “exemplifies originality, technical skill, and the emergence of a personal voice or vision” across 29 categories. At School Meeting last week, Head of School Tad Roach announced that Hwang is the first St. Andrew’s student to be awarded a National Gold Medal from the Scholastic Awards. She will be recognized alongside other National Medalists at Carnegie Hall in New York City this spring.
"I was so pleased but in no way surprised to find out that Iris's writing had been recognized at the national level," commented Mr. Torrey."At 17, she's composing with the confidence and talent of a much more experienced writer. Her voice is so refined and very much her own, and she can mine comedy and tragedy with equal effect."
Both Hwang’s short story and poem explore Asian-American history and identity in the 20th century. In “The Interpreter" tells the story of a Japanese-American man working as a military interpreter in a Japanese internment camp in California during World War II. "I wanted to see what would happen if your ethnicity and your nationality are put at odds with each other," Iris explains. “I wanted to explore what would happen if you felt you had no choice but to align yourself with either Americans or Japanese.” She notes that the peer-editing process that takes place in Creative Writing I helped her to build and refine her story. "We had quite a bit of time to work on both inside and outside of class, and I got a lot of feedback from my peers, too," Iris said. "[On critique days], we print out a copy of our story for everyone [to read prior to class], and then we'd give it each other positive critiques first and then not negative but constructive criticism, like, 'I think you should do x, y, z.' Everyone was really engaged and we all gave each other good criticism."
The poem, set in a museum, reflects on the Chinese labor that built railroad tracks in America, and connects it to the ways in which Asian-Americans are perceived today. Hwang credits Will Torrey’s Creative Writing I course with expanding her interest in poetry by exposing her to different styles of writing. "We first started off with short stories and humor [writing], and we got to do a lot of creative exercises which were really fun," Iris recalled. "Then we moved onto poetry and then creative non-fiction. Mr. Torrey brought in a bunch of new poetry that wasn't always in the same style as short stories so we could have a range of stuff. It's really different from all the other classes here and I really appreciated that."
"Teaching the creative writing courses at St. Andrew's has been such a pleasant and inspiring experience," Torrey said. "I'm often humbled—and in some cases absolutely floored—by the level of talent these students possess at such a young age. The boldness of their stories, essays, and poems is born of a certain fearlessness, a willingness to simply go for it, and write from the heart. It's beautiful to watch them express themselves in this way, and I'm so thankful to guide them through the hard work of creative writing."
As for Mr. Torrey, his essay “Thirteen Scenes Depicting a Year in East Texas” was recently accepted for publication in Boulevard, one of the top ten literary journals in the country. Torrey is the Writer-in-Residence at St. Andrew’s, and teaches English literature, as well as Creative Writing I & II. His work has appeared in The Southeast Review, River Teeth, Hobart, The Florida Review, The North American Review, Colorado Review, Washington Square Review, New Madrid, The Hawaii Review, The Concho River Review, and Zone 3, where his story "Trabajar" won the 2011 Editors' Prize. His novella, “Freedom of Movement,” was named Runner-Up for The 2017 Faulkner-Wisdom Prize, an international competition presented by the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society.
"I feel very lucky to work at a school that values my own artistic pursuits," Torrey said. "St. Andrew's has been extremely generous, sending me to prestigious writing workshops in Portland, Oregon, and Vermont, and the time I have off during the summer and other holidays allows me to keep producing and publishing my own work at steady rate."
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