Ifra Lyoob (right) won the freshman/sophomore competition last year. Credit: Lani Garfield

Over the past 2 1/2 years, we’ve all had to make adjustments—but performing-arts organizations like Coachella Valley Repertory had to completely reinvent themselves to reach audiences and fulfill their missions.

Each year, CVRep had been doing an annual Youth Outreach Production, such as 2019’s The Bully Plays.

“In 2020, we weren’t able to do that,” said Kudra Wagner, a teacher in the CVRep Conservatory Program.

The pandemic-era question became: How could CVRep engage local youth in a safe, remote way? The staff knew that young people would be stuck at home, looking for a way to process what was going on around them—so Youth Writing Competition was born.

CVRep board member Peggy Jacobs presented the idea and sponsors the writing competition, which is back for its third year. Middle school and high school students can enter and win prizes up to $500; submissions this year are due Friday, Sept. 30.

“We are so grateful to Peggy as the driving force behind the competition and its prizes,” said Wagner.

In 2020, 38 contestants took part in the competition; that number held steady in 2021. The hope is that with more awareness of the competition, that number will grow this year.

“We see a lot of promotion and support for adult writers in the valley—not so much so for younger writers,” Wagner said. “I remember when I was a kid, I loved writing. If I’d had something like this available in my hometown, I would have been really invested in that. I’m just glad this is available to valley youth now.”

All types of creative writing are accepted, from short stories, to essays, to plays, to poetry. Even journalistic articles have been entered.

“I’ve read some of last year’s entrants,” said Wagner. “I remember reading a history essay that was particularly stellar. … No matter what kind of writing an entrant is drawn to, we want them to submit and feel proud of their work.”

No student should be afraid of entering because they don’t feel that their technical writing skills are up to par, Wagner said.

CVRep board member Peggy Jacobs is the brainchild behind and sponsor of the competition. Credit: Lani Garfield

“With this contest, we are looking for content, creativity and originality,” said Wagner. “Evidence that a student really cared that they really put themselves into the piece, regardless of if it’s technically perfect, is what we are looking for.”

Wagner said one of the entrants this year is a boy with autism, who wrote a poem about what it’s like to experience autism.

“It’s very real,” she said. “It’s very human. It’s very him. He spent time on this. He put himself into it. He hand-wrote it. That’s the kind of thing we are looking for. We’re looking for the joy that comes with writing and creating as a child.”

Students are divided into three categories. Middle school students make up the first category; high school freshmen and sophomores the second; and high school juniors and seniors the third. Any student in the Coachella Valley can apply, and winners in each category get cash prizes: $500 for first place, $250 for second, and $100 for third.

Writing submissions will be judged by a three-member panel, chaired by best-selling author Hal Gershowitz. CV Rep will be honoring the winners at an ice cream social on Sunday, Oct. 16; students can choose to read or have their pieces read at the event.

“There are many prizes, and we look forward to awarding them,” said Wagner.

The deadline for the third annual Youth Writing Competition is Friday, Sept. 30. For more information, visit cvrep.org/cvreps-annual-youth-writing-competition.

Kevin Mann is the Independent’s editorial intern; his internship is funded by the Coachella Valley Journalism Foundation. Kevin can be reached at kmann@cvindependent.com.

Kevin Mann is a former bankruptcy paralegal who's made a U-turn into filmmaking and journalism. He has also written for the College of the Desert’s Chaparral and The Desert Sun. His screenplay, Appetite,...