Senior’s essay on Langston Hughes, Alice Walker wins award, earns spot in literary journal
When DeKalb Early College Academy (DECA) senior Hannah Huff wrote down her thoughts on two of her favorite works of literature—Alice Walker’s short story “Everyday Use” and Langston Hughes’ play Mulatto—little did she know she would soon find her work published in a scholarly journal.
Huff’s work, Identity in Langston Hughes’ Mulatto and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use”, was recently published in the 24th edition of The Polishing Cloth, Georgia State University Perimeter College’s literary journal. Huff’s work also won The Polishing Cloth’s Essay Award at an official award ceremony.
“Writing has always been a passion of mine. I do it when I feel overwhelmed with something. I can always pull out some paper and write stuff down, but I never thought it would be something that I share with people, and something that people want to read,” said Huff. “This feels very rewarding. It makes me want to pursue it even more and write more.”
Huff’s entry into the contest began as nothing more than an assignment in her 11th grade English class. Her teacher was so taken with Huff’s work that she suggested it be sent to The Polishing Cloth for publication consideration. The pair never guessed it would not just be published, but also earn the literary journal’s Essay Award.
Identity in Langston Hughes’ Mulatto and Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use,” draws comparisons between the two works’ protagonists. In Mulatto, Huff focused on Robert, the son of a white man and a black housekeeper. She saw connections to Dee, an educated black woman seeking to embrace her African roots.
Huff’s analytical mind couldn’t stop her from seeing a common thread.
“While reading Mulatto I was making connections with “Everyday Use,” and noticing the two main characters were going through the same thing,” Huff said. “Robert’s father doesn’t claim him, and everyone sees him as black. He wants to be known as a white man’s son and wants to be treated as such. Dee wanted to glorify her blackness and put it on display. They both were really struggling with who they were on the inside.”
Huff began studying both works intensely. This included reading various reviews about each work and continually taking notes on sentiments that stuck with her.
This feeling is something Huff can relate to. At DECA, Huff said she has encountered peers from many different backgrounds, such as Nigeria, and admires how proudly they display it. Huff is proud to be an African-American, but struggles with how broadly that can be interpreted or shown.
“Sometimes I feel a little boring around them, but I’m learning a lot and becoming more appreciative,” Huff said. “It’s important for us to celebrate our cultural and ethnic differences, and not just put a check in a box. There’s so much trauma and harm done because people look a certain way, talk a certain way, or dress a certain way. Things should be accepted. People don’t take the time to understand.”
Huff credits DCSD with inspiring a sense of curiosity and self-reflection—two attributes that helped her pen such a noteworthy work. Huff’s time spent at Princeton Elementary, Wadsworth Magnet School for High Achievers, Chapel Hill Middle, and DECA have introduced her to inspiring teachers, healthy learning environments, and lifelong peers.
“I love it! I’ve always felt safe. The teachers are phenomenal. I still keep in touch with one teacher from Princeton,” Huff said.
In her spare time, Huff also enjoys writing poetry, stream-of-consciousness compositions about romance, and more. She hopes to take her talents to Oglethorpe, Emory, University of Georgia, Harvard or Duke, where she plans to major in neuroscience. Upon graduation, Huff will have 60 college credits.
When it comes to replicating her success, Huff’s advice is simple: just go for it.
“You don’t need an award or any reward to show you that you’re good enough. People want to read your stuff, hear your stuff, listen to your music—just go for it,” Huff said. “One day, we’re going to need more names to put into the history books. Go for it.”