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Newark teen's award-winning writing explores family, identity

Courtesy of Sophia Zhao
Recent Charter School of Wilmington graduate Sophia Zhao after winning a Gold Portfolio award for her writing in the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards national competition.

A budding local writer has earned national recognition— and money for college— for prose and poetry exploring her Chinese-American identity. 


Recent Charter School of Wilmington graduate Sophia Zhao was among eight students nationwide this spring to win the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards’ highest honor — the Gold Medal Portfolio— for writing. The prize included a $10,000 scholarship.

The Newark resident’s work takes the form of personal essay, flash fiction and poetry — and tackles themes of identity and relationships to family. 

"That is what it means to be Chinese enough: to care." - from Zhao's essay "Meaning of Chinese"

In an essay called "Meaning of Chinese," Zhao travels to visit family in Shanghai. She worries about her limited Mardarin language skills, but is surprised when her grandmother asks for Zhao’s help in learning English. 

“After witnessing my grandmother and how she was trying her best to communicate with us, I understood that the practice of using language to understand people is what makes language and culture inevitably so meaningful,” she said. 

Zhao says writing about her trip to Shanghai changed how she thought about her identity. 

“Just going back and visiting my family and reconnecting with my culture, I understood that identity doesn’t always have to come from yourself,” she said. “It can always come from other people, and connections, and especially family. I think that’s very important.”

Zhao began writing creatively a few years ago, and says she enjoys the alternative to academic writing.  “I found poetry very much more flexible and more fresh than what I was used to— and I think it was just a way to express myself,” she said. “Creative writing was very liberating for me.”

Zhao heads to Yale University this fall — where she’s considering studying writing and biology.

Delaware Public Media' s arts coverage is made possible, in part, by support from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.

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