The Next Stephen King Lives in Wantagh: Junior Nora Toscano Wins Prestigious Scholastic Art and Writing Award

Jen Rosen, Associate Editor

For every young writer, there is no greater dream than publishing one’s work and connecting with readers from across the world. On January 28th, junior Nora Toscano saw that dream become a reality when she received an email from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers following her submissions for the 2022 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. It was here where she was informed that she had not only received an Honorable Mention, but also the prestigious Gold Key Regional Award on her short story pieces. 

In describing the events leading up to the award release, Toscano stated, “I was constantly refreshing the website to see if the awards had been posted… Finally, during eighth period, my awards showed up on the website and I freaked out a little bit. I wasn’t expecting anything, but hoped for another Honorable Mention, and was completely shocked when I won not only that but also a Gold Key.”

Since 1923, the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers has provided one of the nation’s most prestigious recognition programs. It celebrates the work of bold and creative high schoolers through its annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The awards have a long roster of creative geniuses who have changed the world through their innovative expression in nationally acclaimed films, paintings, and novels. The list includes, but is not limited to, Andy Warhol (1945 alumni), Sylvia Plath (1947 alumni), Stephen King (1965 alumni), and now Nora Toscano (2022). 

All entries submitted to the organization’s national competition are considered for Gold Key, Silver Key, Honorable Mention, American Visions Nominee, and American Voices Nominee awards. Toscano’s short story piece entitled “Young Adult” received the highest honor, Gold Key, and is now being considered for national awards including medals and scholarships. 

 “The mind is such a fickle thing, honestly, my mother used to tell me as she pressed the crimson comforter into the crevice between my abdomen and the too-hard mattress. Never can decide, she’d say, and so easy to fool.” The opening to Toscano’s short story alone is an immersive experience. In integrating the rich dexterous and kinesthetic appearance of her surroundings and characters, she invites readers into the catharsis of her thoughts and brings her story to life. 

The story vividly captures a complex family relationship of a girl attached to her book collection and watches on as her father struggles with mental illness. Toscano stated, “It was largely inspired by my love for reading when I was younger, and how I would become very attached to a book or series. My living conditions are way better than my main character, but I think the idea that these fantastical, often unrealistic books can be an escape is universal.”

As if this isn’t enough, Toscano also received an Honorable Mention on her story entitled “Burn.” This coming-of-age thriller story captures the free-spirited, rebellious nature of teenagers attempting to find justice within the harrowing and inevitable darkness of the world. The plot follows the reminiscent memory of a high school junior who becomes acquainted with a girl named Julia she meets at a party. The story integrates the experiences of friendship, abuse, and adolescence.

This is the third award Toscano has received from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. Last year, Toscano was awarded an Honorable Mention for a short story she wrote entitled “Go to Sleep,” depicting the story of a girl who died from a school shooting. Toscano stated, “It was inspired by my little brother; I said goodnight to him the night before submissions were due, sat down in my room, and wrote the entire thing in one sitting about what I would do if I lost him.”

In further describing how stories come to her, Toscano stated, “Honestly, my ideas have come to me in different ways…A lot of them are partially inspired by my summers in Montauk, whether that be in the form of a small town or the influence of the ocean. Additionally, some are inspired by social issues I’m passionate about.” In describing Tocano’s writing style and work ethic, journalism teacher Kathleen Flynn told her, “You have such a powerful way with words. You explore topics that I know you hold close to your heart, and you do so in a way that is both poignant and powerful.”

Toscano is an active member of the community inside and outside the world of writing. She participates in AP Research through Wantagh’s Advanced Placement Capstone Program and is eligible to receive the AP Capstone Diploma following the submission of her independent research paper and presentation. She is also Editor-in-Chief of The Warrior and member of Model Congress, the Class of 2023, the Gay-Straight Alliance Club, Key Club, and Spanish Club.

As Toscano begins to consider higher education, she hopes to continue her passion for writing. “I’m not entirely sure what career path I want to follow, but I know that whatever it is, it’ll involve writing. Whether that be publishing, journalism, or something else, I’m not really sure, but writing is the only thing that I’ve ever thought about doing with my life. I really can’t imagine ever leaving writing completely behind.”