Every year, the Adroit Journal awards two high-school or undergraduate students for their writing in poetry and prose. Last year, Tariq Thompson ’21 won the poetry prize. This year, Stephanie Chang ’25 (she/they) has won the same award, making this the first time two students from the same school have been selected.
Chang has been writing poetry since 2017, finding literary communities through Twitter and submitting her work to various zines and publications. She primarily writes poetry, as she finds it allows her creative freedom through its genre fluidity. “That’s what I love about poetry,” Chang said. “It’s so hard to define it, to box it up.”
Chang’s writing responds to all aspects of their identity, but they noted that they draw a lot of their inspiration from films, and they particularly love older Hong Kong movies. “I grew up watching a lot of horror movies in Cantonese, a lot of Wong Kar-wai movies as well,” they said. Recently, they have been watching many films by Anna May Wong, the first Chinese American Hollywood star.
The Adroit Journal will publish three of her poems from the five she submitted, all of which draw on themes from Chinese mythology. “One of the poems that I’m publishing is about the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, and kind of queering that myth into this sapphic love story,” Chang said. All three of the poems use bodily imagery that she describes as an “unapologetic grossness.” Their poems present queerness in a way that is uncensored, forcing the reader to come to terms with their own discomfort.
Chang tends to write persona poems, in which the speaker of the poem assumes the voice of any character other than the author. Their winning poem, “Lotus Flower Kingdom,” is told from the fictional perspective of the daughter of a dim sum restaurant owner.
“I wanted the world to be very speculative, kind of half caught up in the past, half caught up in the present,” she said. “I was really concerned with trying to invent words, and kind of play around with language in that way.” She uses periods in her poem to end sentences abruptly and in unexpected places to represent the stream of consciousness of the narrator. The poem is about a woman taking agency over her trauma and patriarchal expectations, inspired by Ren Hang’s photography that depicts women sexually expressing themselves. The lotus flowers in some of Ren’s work show up in Chang’s poem, helping to represent unrestricted femininity.
The first three lines of the poem, “Sunday catch. I do the honors. I harvest the lily pads./ The lily pads exploding like funguses. They break the surface tension./ Between your breasts. Redswim and Gunblot,” show the way Chang plays with language in this piece. The imagery of the female body is boldly introduced, and is a theme that carries throughout the poem.
Chang was announced the winner on Sept. 21, selected by Carl Phillips.