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Shakespeare Selfie 2015

Shakespeare Selfie, grades 10-12 category: Meet the winner

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Our 2015 Shakespeare Selfie challenge was amazing. We received almost 400 creative and thought-provoking entries from young writers across the country. Check out all the 2015 entries here.

Our judge, bestselling Canadian young-adult author Kenneth Oppel, has chosen the grand prize winner from the 10 shortlisted entries selected by our readers, Canadian young adult authors Natale Ghent and Kevin Major. Find out more about the Shakespeare Selfie readers here. 

Without further ado, we present the grand prize entry in the grades 10-12 category of the 2015 Shakespeare Selfie Challenge!

This Isle 
by Neha Rahman

School: Northern Secondary School, Toronto
Topic: Missing and murdered Aboriginal women
Shakespeare character: Caliban

I cannot see myself in chrome and glass 
Not in the screen, the gloss of magazine. 
Art all afeared? Then prove it, kill me thus:
Erase the final trace of me, in words,
In image, mother was a witch, and dad
A devil still. I borne of Frankenstein.
The pain it is to see oneself in beasts,
In monsters, dug from well disposèd graves.
O would that I might simply tear away 
This cloak, the shade of night which covers, eats
Me whole, fragmented, pick away this skin.
Alas tis sewn to me in permanence, 
Impermanence, it was one more white lie. 
That Prosper they had bid me filled my isle 
With noise, with light, with white, and white and white 
They built a ladder, then they chained my feet
The tops of mountains only take to snow.
The heights, the wealth, that I will never know. 
Hard work translates to toil without an end,
A slave of modern day, cease to pretend. 
My people, say you see? Mere liver spots to me.
Their skin is coffee, chocolate, never brown.
A decadence to swallow, guzzle down. 
A concrete strip they built to split my isle.
Is it not they who steal my sisters while,
Their metal monsters roar and poison air,
While buried are my sisters everywhere.
If not so feared, now we’re commodified.
A beauty in this shroud of mine? Not seen,
Nor spoken in a tongue so red as mine.
So long ago, did I whitewash my mouth.
I speak to Prosper, and I cry to dream:
If here would lie a list of all twas stole, 
T’would stretch the earth from pole to cursèd pole.
If here would lie all penance henceforth made,
Of grass, t’would cover barely half a blade. 
My image beads like blood on chrome and glass,
Like it, I’m made of stuff that’s built to last.  
So what did Kenneth Oppel have to say about the winning entry?

"In the  voice of The Tempest’s Caliban comes Neha Rahman’s moving soliloquy on missing and murdered Aboriginal women. The poem bursts with personality and striking imagery, and line by line evokes the tragedy of being marginalized and mistreated by an indifferent society. Here’s one of my favourite passages: 'With noise, with light, with white, and white and white/They built a ladder, then they chained my feet.' Strong rhythm and vigorous metaphors give the poem a truly Shakespearean feel. 'This Isle' is a powerful and well-executed cry-from-the-heart. Very impressive work, Neha!"
—Kenneth Oppel


Hi! I'm Neha Rahman. I'm 17 years old, and I love literature and feminism. I run a feminist club, and generally I spend my free time blogging or tweeting about feminist issues. Another of my hobbies is learning languages. I'm fluent in three (English, Bengali and Hindi) and I'm learning French and Latin at school, and Arabic in an extracurricular class. I really love journalism. I'm always reading the news, and I edit my school's newspaper. I live with my mom and my little sister, Arshi. I also have a pet cat, named Tomu. 

How did you hear about the Shakespeare Selfie challenge?
I take a course on playwrighting and my class took part in the Shakespeare Selfie contest as an assignment. 

Do you usually write? 
I do write, although it's mostly essays or blog posts. When I have more free time I like to write short stories. This year I became interested in writing plays, and so now I write plays that are mostly inspired by Jane Austen novels, and are quite often a tad politically charged. 

You write about missing and murdered Aboriginal women from Caliban's point of view. How did you come upon this theme and these characters? 
I was sitting in my room, with my collection of Shakespeare plays arranged in a circle around me. This sounds weird but it is sincerely how I came up with my idea. I stared at my plays until I began to dwell on The Tempest, and I kept coming back to those characters we generally read as villains. I came to Caliban, who, like Aaron of Titus Andronicus, bases his villainy on righting a wrong done to him. Caliban is a victim of colonialism, in my opinion and in that of others. I read several academic papers to bolster my understanding of this concept. I then went on to connect this sense of colonialism to its contemporary manifestations—and they're everywhere. Closest to home, I know that the entrenched system of violence towards Canada's Aboriginal population is something rooted in our history. With Caliban as my voice, I sought to explore that. 

What was it like writing your entry? 
The actual process of writing my entry was a bit of a challenge as I decided to write it in iambic pentameter. Every line I decided to write, I would have to chant it out and keep track of the meter. It was quite a struggle, but I think it forced me to be much more creative to fit the constraints of the meter than it would have to just write free form. It took me a day or two to perfect it. 

What do you think of Shakespeare?
I am an absolute devotee of the Bard. I have been consistently working my way through his plays and sonnets. I absolutely revel in any chance we get to study Shakespeare in English class, and I seek out discussion and exploration of his work. As we are studying Hamlet now in English class, my friends and I actually put together a musical adaptation of the first act of the play. I've written other cover songs about Shakespearean characters with friends as well. I blog about him, tweet about him.  Everyone has their one thing that they're hopelessly geeky about, and Shakespeare is mine. 

What's your favourite modern-day Shakespeare adaptation?
I absolutely love Nothing Much To Do, a retelling of Much Ado About Nothing that is set in a New Zealand high school. The story. by a group called the Candle Wasters, is told through YouTube videos—or "vlogs"—and has a snarky feminist Beatrice and a wonderfully quirky Benedick. Overall, it is an amazing, intelligent and faithful retelling of Much Ado that made me grow to love this play even more than I already did. 

Who's your favourite author and why?
This is impossible to answer with any permanency, but currently my favourite author is Donna Tartt, the author of The Goldfinch. Her prose is so indulgent, I can't help but lose myself in it. She crafts these characters who are so easy to sink into and to feel for. Her writing brings me to tears and keeps me in place. When I get started reading a novel by her, it hardly ever leaves my mind until I finish. 


Congratulations, Neha! You'll be receiving an iPad mini and your school library at Northern Secondary School in Toronto will be receiving 100 Canadian young-adult books thanks to your grand prize-winning entry.


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