Rona Wang was awarded First Prize for "Acceptance Day," which explores identity, race, and bigotry in the United States through the story of a young Chinese girl, her Japanese friend, and an older Chinese boy in New York’s Chinatown during World War II. The smart, handsome, patriotic boy (he collects scrap metal for American’s war effort) is accepted to Harvard, but nothing is simple, especially assimilation in mid-century America. Unsentimentally but compassionately, Wang weaves a complex drama greater than any one person or any one race. With echoes of Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston, the language is subtle and touching, and breathtaking imagery and metaphors help construct vivid settings and characters: sky like “wet tin,” a voice “skinny and gold,” rumors that “brushed up against our calves, purred silkily until we found ourselves welcoming them into our homes, where they settled into the corners of our living rooms.” With a hand sure beyond her age, Wang compels us seamlessly and inexorably toward a surprising ending to a story that not only reveals the plight of immigrants in the America of the past but forces us to confront the dangers of today in the age of “America first” and resurgent white nationalism.
Rona Wang, from Portland, Oregon, majors in Mathematics with Computer Science (Course 18-C), class of 2020.
Selam Gano was awarded Second Prize for "Outside the Looking Glass." By turns charming, poignant, and ultimately profound, “Outside the Looking Glass” takes a head-on look at how human beings categorize and value—or devalue—others based simply on the ethnicity suggested by their appearance. Through the lens of someone with a complex ethnic background and a fascinating group of ancestors, she shows how, far too often, we stop getting to know someone once we have classified them; and how not having features conducive to classification can make this custom both more apparent and more painful. Ultimately, though, “Outside the Looking Glass” leaves us with a vivid awareness of this kind of racism and the inspiration to move beyond it.
Selam Gano, from Denver, Colorado, majors in Mechanical Engineering, class of 2018.
The Isabelle de Courtivron Prize Selection Committee this year included MIT Global Studies and Languages lecturers Eric Grunwald (chair), Min-Min Liang, and Mariana San Martin.