Creative writing a welcome distraction from pandemic constraints says NYC teen who started global contest

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Vishnu Bharathram, 17, a high schooler in New York City, started a Scribe Writing Contest that attracted student from around the world. Photo: courtesy Vishnu Bharathram.

Vishnu Bharathram, 17, a senior at Riverdale Country School, in Bronx, NY, organized the Scribe Writing Contest, in the midst of COVID-19, to help provide a pleasant distraction from the current state of events and encourage teens to use their imaginations. Some of the country’s top English and creative writing professors stepped forward to serve as judges.

During March 2020, when people started becoming aware the pandemic, this bright Bronx teen got the idea of starting a writing contest.

“Nobody was expecting this pandemic to cause such devastating effects. So many of us have been isolated at home as schools went remote, businesses shut down. The constant news about the coronavirus around me bothered me,” Bharathram told News India Times.

“It must have been depressing for other high school students too. The idea to provide an avenue away from all this struck me and I thought of creating this contest. I think writing has the capacity to offer some much-needed respite and escape from the current situation,” said Bharathram.

He reached out to several noteworthy professors from all over the country to judge the competition.

“What astonished me is the positive response I got from them despite everyone’s busy schedules during this time. I was pleasantly surprised that they had agreed to help a mere high school student.” Bharathram said. He selected seven of them to serve as judges for the contest.

To publicize the contest, he reached out to schools and libraries and received an overwhelming response. The contest received almost 900 submissions from teens in 17 countries, spanning six continents.

In addition, six nonprofit literary publishing companies, whose titles have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the National Book Critics Circle Award, sponsored the contest with cash prizes and books for the winners. They awarded a total of $2,750 in cash prizes and books to the six contest winners.

The Scribe Writing Contest, which took place in May, is a free, online high school creative writing contest open to students from Grade 9 to 12, all over the world. Students were given a 24-hour window in which to start their essay and had to submit either a poem or short story, within two hours, in response to specific prompts that were given immediately prior to beginning the contest.

Bharathram also created Scribe Review, a nonprofit journal dedicated to publishing the academic English essays of high school students. Its first issue was published in August 2020.

“The Scribe Review came from a slightly different place. Before this there existed no journal that published, writing stemmed from analytical and critical thinking. I was able to gather 13 reviewers for the first edition which included esteemed professors from the country some of which are best-selling authors,” Bharathram said.

The Scribe Writing Contest is an annual event and the next competition is scheduled for May 2021.

The Scribe Review will be a quarterly journal, and the next issue will come out in November.

“Creative writing has such an extraordinary capacity to uplift and inspire. If the Scribe Writing Contest enabled students to realize that capacity, even for a moment, then in my eyes it was all worthwhile,” said Bharathram who considers himself lucky to have got the favorable response he received for his idea. He encouragers high schoolers to choose projects and try new things with the faith that others are willing to step forward with help.

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