It became almost real when she walked into the Poetry Room of the Library of Congress.
The space functions as the poet laureate’s office, but she and the other four winners were allowed to tour it and even sign the Poetry Corner Journal, the book the past 20 poet laureates had signed — great writers like Robert Penn Warren, Rita Dove, Billy Collins, Natasha Trethewey and, her personal hero, Louise Glück.
But now, the journal also boasts her name: Madeleine Lecesne.
Lecesne is an 18-year-old who attends Lusher Charter High School in Uptown New Orleans. She is also a national student poet, one of five chosen from 13,000 entries.
After receiving the news, Lecesne flew to Washington, D.C., in September to meet first lady Michelle Obama at the White House and, with the other students, to give a reading.
“When I found out, it was the sweetest paralysis,” she says, rocking back and forth in her creative writing teacher Brad Richard’s classroom. “I couldn’t move, and I was crying my eyes out. Now I still can’t believe it.”
But after discussing literature, language and art with her, the award is not surprising. This is her playing field.
“The law of conservation of mass has a lot to do with how I see language,” she says. “Language is recyclable, it’s resurrection, it calls upon our history but also its creation. It’s the future. It’s a sort of alchemy — we’re creating a world out of nothing.”
The room is dead quiet and weighs heavy with her assured intensity. A few pesky students chasing one other down the hallway outside barely disturb the tranquility of the room. Richard folds his hands on the table, studying her face with a concentrated pride.
“Because when it comes down to it, the figures that we use to communicate with one another mean absolutely nothing,” she continues. “It’s the meaning that we place into them, and that meaning is created as we recycle these words in all different contexts.”
Lecesne is earning a certificate of artistry in creative writing, one of the special arts disciplines offered at Lusher. Throughout the week, Lecesne must dedicate 700 minutes to her creative writing courses. Richard, the director of the creative writing program at the school and a 24-year veteran of New Orleans schools, has overseen her in the program.
“It is astonishingly gratifying,” he says of the national recognition. “Obviously I’ve known (Madeleine) for a very long time, and I’ve known that she has great, great talent and potential.
“She’s an incredibly committed student and writer, so I really am not surprised for her in a lot of ways because she has the drive and the talent for something like this.”
Lecesne and the other four National Student Poets must complete service projects that promote poetry and the arts. The other winners are Weston Clark, of Zionsville, Indiana; Ashley Gong, of Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Cameron Messinides, of Camden, South Carolina and Julia Falkner, of Louisville, Colorado.
Nevertheless, with these fresh obligations to fulfill and as she sends out college applications and considers various majors, writing is something that Lecesne knows she cannot do without.
“Because I have such trouble communicating in my everyday life orally,” she says, “every piece I write is a plea to connect. I want people to understand where I’m coming from. I want people to understand who I am.”
The 2015 Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are now accepting entries. The deadline for submissions is Dec. 31. Visit artandwriting.org for more information.