By Ryan Whirty
When Lusher Charter School senior Raven Little began writing poetry in a seventh-grade creative writing class, her work covered many of the usual subjects in a teenager’s life, like love poems and sports.
But after a while, 17-year-old Raven’s focus shifted as she matured and became more aware of the troubles causing strife, disunity and injustice in the society around her. She soon felt the need to tackle those social, political and racial challenges.
She simply felt she had to.
“I realized there we bigger things I started to care more about,” she said, “and I wanted to shine a light on them.”
Raven gradually built up a strong portfolio of her socially conscious poetry, with encouragement from creative writing teacher Brad Richard, who noticed her talent and her passion for writing.
“Early on she had a great imagination, but most of all she really cared about her writing,” Richard said.
With such support, Raven entered her portfolio in the 96th annual Scholastic Art & Writing Awards competition, and it ended up receiving a Gold Medal and being picked as one of only 16 received entrees to earn top honors.
From the portfolio’s title, “In This One, the Black Boy Only Dies Once,” through to its conclusion, the eight-poem work reflects years of dedication to sharpening her craft and incorporating themes of racial justice, equality and awareness of the world around her.
She said that hopefully, while the work describes her own situation, other people of all backgrounds can be inspired by it.
“It’s all about religion, who I am and my place in America as an African American, but it can be applied to anyone,” she said.
Raven said with her portfolio, she ponders serious questions about race and identity. “I try to figure out whether I’m free or trapped in America, and if I feel discriminated against,” she said.
Richard said Raven’s writing taps into very personal emotions and experiences, but he added that she’s also keenly studied other contemporary writers and applied what she learned from them into her work.
“Her style is contemporary and conversational, but it’s also very nuanced,” he said. “There’s a lot of it that’s very understated, but she’s also able to address something directly.”
This year, students in seventh to 12th grade from across the country submitted more than 340,000 works of visual art and writing. The contest is supported by the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists and Writers.
“For 96 years, the Awards have recognized the creative promise of individuals like Andy Warhol, Kay WalkingStick, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Richard Avedon and Zac Posen, and today we honor more than 2,700 teens as they receive national recognition in the 2019 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards,” Alliance Executive Director Virginia McEnerney said in a statement. “These students join a legacy of teens facilitating important dialogue through their art and writing, and we celebrate their creativity and innovation as the next generation of great American artists and writers.”
Raven’s selection as one of the competition’s 16 best entrants includes a $10,000 college scholarship in addition to the recognition of her talent. Raven said she was surprised with how well her portfolio did in the competition.
“It’s exciting, and it was completely unexpected,” she said. “I didn’t think my portfolio would get that far. But I’m very proud of my work. I’ve been writing for a long time, and it’s uplifting to receive an award for it.”
As she approaches graduation, Raven said she’s looking at several universities to further her education and writing, such as the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Xavier University and Southern Mississippi University. She hopes to major in journalism and creative writing, but she’s also keeping pre-law as a possibility, too.
At this point, Raven is keeping her goals modest but with a desire for further success.
“I want to keep writing,” she said. “I hope I can get published. But I realize I might have to do something else until that comes along.”
Richard said that the Scholastic Award and the recognition that comes with it should give Raven a big boost and help open up collegiate opportunities and beyond.
“As a writer she could go just about anywhere she wants to,” he said. “It’ll be interesting to see how she does.”
This article originally appeared in the Louisiana Weekly.