FREMONT — Between modern-day texting and tweeting, some wordsmiths have lamented that language, as an art form, may be lost on today's youth.

If anyone needs proof that's not necessarily the case, have them meet Sarah Li.

A junior at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, Li has been named a 2010 American Voices Award recipient, one of 17 youths in the country to receive the honor by The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards organization.

She will pick up her award Wednesday during a gala celebration at Carnegie Hall in New York City, the kickoff event to a two-week student art-and-writing exhibition at the World Financial Center Courtyard Gallery.

To win the award, Li first had to be selected for one of 24 Gold Key awards out of nearly 2,100 writing submissions to the California Writing Project. The top six pieces were reviewed by a panel of national judges, which then handed out one American Voices Award — essentially a "best in show" designation — for all of California.

"Basically the American Voices Award is like the gold medal. It recognizes her unique voice and perspective. This young woman has done something incredibly exceptional," Jayne Marlink, executive director of the California Writing Project, said of the Fremont student's work.

Li had never entered a national competition before and appeared as if she did not fully comprehend the magnitude of her accomplishment during a recent interview.


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"I was surprised that I won it because it was the first big honor I've won for anything I've written. ... My parents are trying to downplay it so I don't get a big head," said Li, who was unaware just how few people win the American Voices Award or in whose company she now joins.

Famed artists who have won Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in the past include actors John Lithgow and Robert Redford, painter and filmmaker Andy Warhol, and writers Truman Capote, Bernard Malamud, Joyce Carol Oates and Sylvia Plath — one of Li's favorite writers — to name a few.

Perhaps she's unaware of her own talent, but the high school student knows what she's looking for when it comes to good literature. She prefers author J.D. Salinger's honesty, Sylvia Plath's style and Dorothy Parker's humor to today's popular literature, some of which she finds lacking in plot lines and character development.

Although Li writes for fun these days — she also produces stories and blogs regularly — writing was not always something in which she took pleasure.

"When I was little, I used to really not like writing," she said. But in the fourth grade, she read about a girl who kept a journal and decided to follow suit.

Li considers herself more a short story writer; she struggles with poetry, which she finds "a bit more difficult in trying to get my emotions out." And she rarely writes "uber-dark" pieces, she said. Ironically, it was a poem about the psychological trauma suffered by children who went into hiding during the Holocaust — a piece she wrote for a class assignment — that won her an American Voices Award.

Katherine Geers, Li's English teacher the last two years, said she uses Li's writing as examples for other students.

"She has a very good command of the English language," Geers said. "She definitely excels when it comes to this form of creative expression and writing."

To read Li's winning poem, visit www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.

Contact Linh Tat at 510-353-7010. Follow her at Twitter.com/Linh_Tat.