Athena Chu '18 Wins National Arts Honor

With her poems' startling imagery and her spine-tingling delivery, Athena Chu is well known for her way with words in the BB&N community, and now she has stepped into a much bigger spotlight as a Writing/Spoken Word Finalist in the National YoungArts Foundation annual competition.

The 171 Finalists were selected by an independent panel of accomplished artists from a pool of 757 winners, the top 10 percent of the 7,500 applicants. Athena was one of four Spoken Word Finalists and one of 11 Cinematic Arts Finalists—and the only winner to be chosen in two separate disciplines.

Having to pick one, Athena chose to attend the 37th annual National YoungArts Week, held last month in Miami for the Finalists, as a spoken-word poet. There, she received even more accolades. Following the week of performances and workshops with professional artists, she was among the 60 Finalists that YoungArts nominated for the prestigious U.S. Presidential Scholars Program. In the spring, 20 of those students will be named U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts.

Additionally, Athena was the only student asked to speak about her week's experience at the YoungArts Board meeting.

Athena was inspired by the week of interdisciplinary classes with dancers, musicians, actors, and others "just as consumed by their art form," she says, "as I am, if not more." She was struck by something a master panelist stressed: "that though we are here and recognized for a talent, it is not talent but hard work that ensures we will become the best artistic versions of ourselves."

In the YoungArts application process, students are asked to name teachers who have been important to their development. "All my English teachers have greatly influenced me," says Athena. "I would not be where I am without any of them—Mr. Leith, Ms. Getchell, Mr. Williams—so I listed all three."

Once she was selected as a Finalist, Athena invited English teacher Sarah Getchell to the events in Miami. "Ms. Getchell introduced me to the art of the spoken word and the slam community in sophomore year," she says, "and without her, I would never have found my voice."  

In addition to some events for the honored teachers, Getchell attended the writers' final showcase, which Athena opened. "Her performance was bewitching and powerful," Getchell says. "She blew the roof off the building." The professional poets who served as mentors and coaches for the students were equally impressed. "They told me that Athena 'has to keep writing and performing because she has such an important voice,'" says Getchell. "I couldn't agree more. The world needs to hear her."  

Written by Sharon Krauss, Upper School English Department