In short, poetic paragraphs, Caleb Pan captures the moments of his life from the everyday details to the raw personal moments. Writing, he said, keeps him grounded.
That writing recently garnered the Washington Park 18-year-old the Gold Medal Award from Scholastic, Inc., in their 96th annual Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. The award came with a $10,000 scholarship, which Pan said will go toward his college education. Pan was one of 16 winners in the national contest. He started writing in class when he was in third grade, and it became something he enjoyed as a hobby. He joked that he can’t write fiction to save his life. Instead, he pulls from his life experiences, writing short vignettes on everything from using pens to the death of a classmate.
Writing about his own life means he has to be willing to be vulnerable, Pan said.
“You have to have more writing material and to have the personality to pull (nonfiction) off,” Pan said. “Not everyone has that, but I guess I do.”
Pan recently graduated a concurrent enrollment program at Arapahoe Community College which allowed him to get a high school diploma while earning college credits. He will study computer science at Colorado School of Mines in Golden in the fall. Pan first became more serious about writing in fifth grade after attending classes and workshops with Lighthouse Writers Workshop, a nonprofit that provides support and classes for local writers. There, he learned about different genres and styles of writing. Lighthouse helped him find his voice, he said.
Pan also likes to play with the way his writing looks visually. Instead of a large wall of text, he will change the format. He will also play with visual media, adding collages to his work. For one series of shorts, he included a piece with five images, each relating back to part of the writing.
Pan has stubbornly submitted his work to Scholastic since he was 12. When he found out winners were presented their awards at Carnegie Hall in New York City, it became his dream to stand on the stage. He received a Gold Key award from Scholastic for his artwork in eighth grade. This month, Pan will fulfill his dream when he is given the Gold Medal Award on June 6.
“It feels pretty satisfying that my last year I was able to snag their highest award,” he said.
His portfolio, “Recalled to Life,” is a mix of the submissions he has submitted over the years. Pan reworked the pieces, using the new skills he’s learned over the years to improve and breathe new life into them.
He was inspired by Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities,” which has a theme of resurrection. He wanted to do the same with the pieces of writing he had done throughout his life.
“It was interesting to revisit myself in a way,” he said. “My entire portfolio is made up of just a bunch of losers really, and they were all given a second chance. That’s why I called my portfolio ‘Recalled to Life.’ ”
At a young age, Pan was diagnosed with sensory disfunction, his mother, Paige, said. Holding a pen was difficult for Pan. But teachers and mentors supported him. Writing on a computer made things a little easier since it was difficult for Pan to hold a pen. Having a supportive community really helped with his growth, Paige said.
“He had a lot of people helping and encouraging him,” she said.
Although Pan is studying computer science, he wants to keep writing in his free time. In its own way, software coding is like an art, he added. There is a satisfaction in building something. But it also connects him back to the child at heart.
“It’s kind of like playing with Legos again,” he said.
That passion is what helps bring happiness to his life, Pan said. Although writing started as something to do when he was bored, it is now a part of him.
“I do plan to keep writing because I need to keep my soul alive,” Pan said. “It’s something to keep me grounded.”
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