WILLIAMSTOWN — She's only 16, but Najla Nassar already is poised to make her national debut as a rising star in her field as a writer.
The Mount Greylock Regional School junior has dedicated most of her school career to the craft, disciplining herself at an early age in the arduous tasks of rewriting and revising multiple drafts, grappling with grammar and pushing herself to pick the perfect words for her depictions.
In more recent years, she's decided to share her work more through the annual Boston Globe Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, presented by the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The contest is an affiliate program of the national art and writing competition supported by the publishing company Scholastic Inc.
"I love to write," Nassar said. "It's a great passion of mine and I wanted to take a chance and put my writing out there. Never in a million years could I fathom that my writing would get this kind of response."
This year, her passion and training has put the young author near the pinnacle of her teenage career.
Some 17,500 pieces from students in Grades 7 through 12 were submitted to the Massachusetts contest. More than 50 judges looked at or read the submissions entered in 29 different categories, evaluating them based on three criteria: originality, technical skill and personal voice or vision. From there, a total of about 4,000 honorees were designated to receive Gold Key, Silver Key, or honorable mention distinctions, with Gold Key winners advancing to the national competition.
Earlier this month Nassar was named as one of the state's Gold Key winners, a top honor in the Scholastic Art & Writing contest. As the top Gold Key writer, Nassar earned a $5,000 writing scholarship from The Boston Globe Foundation, for her personal essay/memoir titled "An Unconventional Childhood."
The work — which the Globe calls a "searing story" written as a sort of trial court narrative while doubling as "a portrait of Nassar's complex relationship with her father" — also distinguished her as one of five student writers nominated for the national American Voices award.
On March 14, Nassar received the news from the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers that she has earned a National American Voices Medal for her entry, and an invitation for her and two guests to take part in three days of festivities in New York City, including a June 2 national ceremony to be held in the iconic Carnegie Hall.
This program year, nearly 320,000 works of art and writing were submitted to affiliate award programs across the country.
Mount Greylock Principal Mary MacDonald described Nassar "a very accomplished" young woman, who has previously written for the school newspaper, "The Greylock Echo," and was elected to be the publications editor for the state board during the 2015 Junior Classical League Convention. A lover of languages, the students has been teaching herself and taking classes in Latin, Arabic, Turkish and French.
The young writer from Williamstown said it's an affirming and gratifying experience to win gold this year, something she's been working up to since she won the Berkshire County Seventh Grade Writing Contest during its 30th anniversary year in 2012. That year's writing prompt was "That Undeniable Desire." In her essay, "A Powerful Force," Nassar wrote about her determination to improve her ability to play football and understand the game better.
"Desire is a very powerful force. It lures you into doing what you believe cannot be done. It is quite the motivator," she wrote.
Apparently following her own heart, she went on to enter The Globe's Scholastic Art & Writing contest as a high school student, first earning an honorable mention as a freshman, then last year earning an honorable mention for her personal essay/memoir entry, "Daddy's Little Girl," as well as a Silver Key award in humor writing for her piece, "Fraternal Education."
"It's really important to have contests like these," Nassar said.
"In high school, there are a lot of opportunities to do sports or go into the performing arts and demonstrate their talents. But for someone aspiring to be a writer, there's not many opportunities to share your work and to demonstrate your potential and be recognized for it," she said. "Winning this contest has encouraged me to pursue a career in writing."
Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.