His grandmother’s kimchi inspires former ESL student, whose story wins national award

By Jo Mathis/AAPS District News Editor

Huron High School senior David Lee grew up in a Korean household where not much English was spoken.  But because an English education is highly regarded in Korea,  his mother made sure he grew up listening to English on the radio and listened to “I Can Read It” books.

David Lee, photographed on a recent trip to San Francisco, was surprised to learn he’d won a national writing award.

So when he entered kindergarten at Logan Elementary, he excelled in his English as Second Language classes.

Perhaps his teachers wouldn’t be surprised to learn that David recently won national recognition in the 2018 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. He has been identified by panels of creative professionals as one of the most talented young writers in the nation with a gold medal for his flash fiction piece “Fermenting Jar.”

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards are presented by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit that identifies students with exceptional artistic and literary talent and presents their work through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.

Of the nearly 350,000 works of art and writing submitted to the competition this year, less than one percent were recognized at the national gold medal level.

David applied last year on a whim, submitted a piece he’d written for English class. This year he approached it with a plan in mind and really put some effort and time into trying something new.

His winning story is rooted in the Korean culture and involves the passage of time, which he compares to the fermentation process of kimchi, which brings out new flavors over time. While thinking about that, his dog was in the last stage of life. He was wondering how he would face her death when it came and how he would incorporate the idea of change.

His humanities teacher, Aimee Grant, calls David’s story “wonderfully vibrant and alive with detail in the tale of a tender moment between a grandmother and grandson.”

“As a lover of writing and writing teacher, I could not be more proud of David’s accomplishment,” she says.

David started writing when he at Clague Middle School after a friend who tutored English tutor helped him improve his spoken and written English, perfecting grammar and sentence structure, reading books together and writing down their thoughts about it.

That developed into a love for creative writing.

“Some of the creative writing I do now because a lot of the books I read then made me want to turn my writing from academic to something that was fun to read and accessible.”

Although he’s bilingual and the family speaks Korean at home, David says he can’t write well in Korean.

“I‘m a pretty fluent speaker and I can read it decently, but writing … I’m not really too sure about the grammar of Korean,” he says. “In my house, I’m used to speaking Korean with my parents. But actually translating it into these characters, and that character makes that sound, and putting that together into correct script is kind of difficult.”

That may change after this summer when David visits Korea and takes some writing classes there.

Other Scholastic gold winners from AAPS include Skyline junior Eugene Lee (poetry) and Pioneer junior Sam Kass (poetry), who also won two silver medals.

The winners are invited to attend a ceremony at Carnegie Hall on June 7, although David will not be able to attend due to Huron’s own graduation the day before.

He will attend Stanford University in the fall and plans to explore creative writing for years to come—although not necessarily for a living.

“I will always be writing, though,” he says.


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