Najla Nassar, a junior at Mount Greylock Regional School in Williamstown, is always looking for the best word. A meticulous writer since the time she could hold a pencil, Nassar often spends hours in front of her computer carefully crafting a perfect opening sentence, one potent enough to catalyze an entire piece.
With “An Unconventional Childhood,” the searing story for which Nassar has earned a Gold Key in this year’s Boston Globe Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, she delivers: “When I am asked about my childhood, I feel as if put on trial.”
What follows is an account of a deposition unlike any other, a “quasi-court case,” as she puts it, that doubles as a portrait of Nassar’s complex relationship with her father.
“It’s about both tension and unconditional love for your parent, and the struggle to separate the two,” said Nassar, 16. “I wanted the style to reflect the discomfort I felt being asked about my own experiences.”
Nassar is one of nearly 4,000 Massachusetts honorees in this year’s competition, the regional division of a national program dedicated to honoring and exhibiting exceptional works by students in grades 7 through 12. The program has highlighted young artists and writers for over 90 years, since 1923, with creative minds such as Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, Andy Warhol, and Stephen King ranking among those once recognized who became artistic icons.
The regional Globe competition, presented by the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, is in its 66th year.
“The Boston Globe is proud to honor these gifted young artists and writers and provide them with the platform to amplify their message and artistic voice,” said Linda Pizzuti Henry, Boston Globe Managing Director. “The Boston Globe Scholastic Art & Writing Awards introduces the Boston community to a new generation of young artistic talent, and is just one of the many ways the Globe and its audience of readers support local talent.”
Lesley Davison, the awards coordinator from the SMFA, said more than 17,500 pieces — 2,500 written pieces and 15,000 works of visual art — were submitted this year. More than 50 judges looked at or read the submissions in 29 different categories, evaluating them based on three criteria: originality, technical skill, and personal voice or vision. Winners could receive Gold Key, Silver Key, or honorable mention accolades, with Gold Key winners, including Nassar, going on to the national competition.
Nassar, in addition to receiving a $5,000 scholarship from the Globe, is one of five writers nominated for the national American Voices award, reserved for the Gold Key works that reflect on issues facing modern teenagers. A parallel honor, the American Visions award, is bestowed upon visual artists.
Other nominees for the American Voices award include Hunter Bailey of Oxford High School, Archana Apte of Walpole High School, Maddy Koenig of the Carlisle School, and Ruth Fuller of Falmouth High School.
American Visions nominees include Ali Barlett of Needham High School, Armani Garcia of Parthum Middle School in Lawrence, Eun Soo of St. Mark’s School in Southborough, Fiona Jungmann of Andover High School, and Whitney Nekoroski of Masconomet Regional High School in Boxford.
Jungmann, 18, was awarded for her fashion piece “Identity Thief Coat.” Inspired by the works of Gustav Klimt, the coat evolved dramatically over the course of one summer, with Jungmann, who also earned a $5,000 Globe scholarship, completing much of it while at a camp in Williamsburg.
“It became a piece trying to represent yourself through fashion, without selling yourself into a particular brand,” said Jungmann, a senior who plans to combine her loves of fashion and film at a currently undetermined college next year. “There’s a mod, 1960s touch to it. . . . It’s more on the avant-garde side, but it’s meant to be worn.”
Jungmann’s eight-piece art portfolio, titled “Explorations in Textile,” received a Gold Key, as did individual submissions “Community” (a sleeveless top with an intricate stamp design pattern) and “Quilted Self-Portrait” (a mixed-media piece). Fashion entry “Quilted Bodice” also earned a Silver Key.
“I’m overwhelmed,” she admitted of the recognition, adding, “I haven’t quite internalized it. I’m very pleased and honored.”
Success in the competition has encouraged Jungmann to pursue her passions. “I want to work more on the couture side of things than the industry side,” she explained, noting an interest in costume design. “There are all these stories you can tell through different techniques, and I love it.”
Gold Key works will be on display at EF Education First’s offices in Cambridge through March 20. National winners will be announced March 14.