Christian A. Yiouroukis, Bee Lang win the First Page student writing challenge
Thousands of students wrote about topics ranging from the ethics of technology to climate change
Oshawa, Ont's Christian A. Yiouroukis, and Edmonton's Bee Lang have won the 2023 First Page student writing challenge, a national speculative fiction writing competition for Grades 7 to 12 students in Canada.
Students imagined how current affairs events and trends — from the ethics of artificial intelligence to climate change and genetic editing — have played out in the year 2173.
The 22 finalists and eventual winners were chosen from over 1,200 entries by a team of readers made up of YA and middle-grade authors from across Canada.
Bestselling YA writer Courtney Summers selected the winners from two shortlists curated by the readers.
Christian A. Yiouroukis, 12, a student at DDSB@Home in Oshawa, Ont., is the winner in the Grades 7 to 9 Category for his entry Where the Maple Leaf Grows. The story is about climate change and Indigenous reconciliation.
"It's reasonable for a young writer's anxiety and concerns over the future to reflect in stories presenting a worst case scenario — often those that showcase the catastrophic consequences of our reckless abuses of this planet and its vital, natural resources," said Summers.
"While that perspective is absolutely valuable, what I loved about Where the Maple Leaf Grows was how deeply entrenched it was in optimism and how beautifully expressed that optimism was through the author's clever framing. The story immediately transports us into one family's life as they prepare for a community feast. The active and engaging voice paints a world that is very tantalizing in its hope. In few words, it gave readers a vision of a future we should work to make happen, rather than prevent from happening — I wanted to spend more time in it."
Yiouroukis spoke about injecting hope into his entry.
"I am deeply honoured to have been selected for The First Page writing challenge. I am thrilled that my story resonated with esteemed judges like Courtney Summers," said Yiouroukis in an email to CBC Books. "Ms. Summers' comment captured the intention of my writing, which was to imagine a brighter tomorrow filled with hope. I wrote Where The Maple Leaf Grows as a tribute to family, community, and sustainability."
Bee Lang, 17, a student at McNally High School in Edmonton, is the winner in the Grades 10 to 12 category. Their entry One Question is about transphobia and violence against trans people.
"I was instantly compelled by the form and intimacy of this first page and how acutely and heartbreakingly the author captures the present day fears of a community whose human rights are increasingly under attack," said Summers.
"The further degradation of those rights and the violence it will enable if we continue down that path was expertly rendered by the writing's tight emotional focus, sensory details, and subtle suggestions of its future setting. One Question is an important and urgent reminder that our future will be defined by many things and how we treat each other is among them. Choosing verse was a bold stylistic choice and it was easy to imagine the story continuing and expanding into a series of equally compelling vignettes."
Lang spoke to CBC Books about what it means being chosen as the winner of the First Page.
"Honestly if someone had asked me a year ago what winning this would mean to me, I wouldn't have said much. That it was an honour and that I was very grateful to be chosen. But this means so much more than that now. I wrote this piece because I was angry, felt hurt by the world, and most importantly terrified for my future," Lang said.
"I'm non-binary myself and I constantly feel anxious about this exact situation happening. Trans people have that happen to them way more often than most people might realize and it's not changing. Especially with these past few years and it is down right frightening being a trans person sometimes. I wanted to show how real and tangible that fear is for people like me.
"Nothing could make me happier than the kind words Ms. Summers shared because she really did understand the message I was trying to convey. I hope it makes her happy to know I am continuing the story and plan to write a novel in verse expanding on it."
LISTEN | Bee Lang on Edmonton AM
Both winners will receive one year of OwlCrate, a monthly book subscription service, and 50 books for each of their school libraries.
You can read the winning stories as well as all the finalists below.
Grades 7 to 9 category finalists
- WINNER: Where the Maple Leaf Grows by Christian A. Yiouroukis, 12, from Oshawa, Ont.
- War by Fiona Bagnall, 13, from Calgary.
- A Whole New World by Alvin Chen, 15, from Coquitlam, B.C.
- Jane Doe by Mackenzie Greene, 13, from Toronto
- Bailey by Leilei Lee Culham, 14, from Vancouver
- My Choice by Amelia Man, 14, from Vancouver
- Wishful Breeze by Isabel Porter, 12, from Toronto
- Not Theirs by Molly Teed, 13, from Moncton, N.B.
- 416 by Emily Yan, 13, from Calgary
- The Hidden Painting by Jessica Yang, 14, from Richmond Hill, Ont.
- Ugly Perfection by Jessie Yang, 14, from Coquitlam, B.C.
Grades 10 to 12 category finalists
- WINNER: One Question by Bee Lang, 17, Edmonton
- Is This Life? by Ruby Craig, 16, from Surrey, B.C.
- The Watcher by Talissa Gagnon, 16, from Sorel-Tracy, Que.
- The B-Shop by Alina Gao, 15, from Coquitlam, B.C.
- His and Hers by Audrey Gao, 16, from Vancouver
- A Bird's-Eye View by Akieziah Emerie Garcia, 16, from Winnipeg
- Choices by Jasmin Hasselkuss 16, from Lakefield, Ont.
- Where the Abandoned Things Go by Ashley Levine, 15, from Whitby, Ont.
- The Death of Planet Earth by Zev Lifson, 16, from Montreal
- DesignR Infants Co. by Thomas Nixon-Langford, 18, from Nanaimo, B.C.
- There Will Never Be Another You by Antonia Starcevic, 16, Edmonton