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Samantha West

18-year-old award winner on yesterdays, tomorrows and Mary Sues


Samantha West has quite a week ahead of her. As Boise Weekly is going to press, West is flying to New York, where she'll be honored on the stage of Carnegie Hall as one of a select number of teens with a Portfolio Gold Award from the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers (previous winners include Truman Capote and Sylvia Plath). She'll pick up a $10,000 cash scholarship just before winging back to Boise to join more than 400 of her fellow high-school seniors graduating Saturday, June 1.

In between all of the congratulations and farewells, BW sat down with West and her family (including dad Jim, mom Sawsan, brother Jake, Moonlight the cat and six chickens in the yard).

When you were younger, what did you dream of becoming?

A waitress or scientist. But now that I've taken some real science classes, I can say that science is definitely out.

May I presume that you've also moved on from waitressing?

Now, more than anything, I really want to write screenplays.

What type of movie or television program would you write?

I love really good science fiction novels: Ender's Game, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and anything by Neil Gaiman.

When did you fall in love with writing?

When I got to Capital High School. That's where I took my first creative writing class in my sophomore year.

Did you have a particular teacher who inspired you?

Absolutely, Paula Uriarte [CHS Language Arts teacher]. I should also mention my A.P. English teacher, Carla Zumwalt, who really encouraged me to enter the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. She said if I didn't enter, I would regret it for the rest of my life.

What did you choose for your portfolio entry?

Two short stories, two nonfiction narratives and two poems.

Give me a sense of what some of them are about.

One of the narratives was about my vague memories of a first trip to New York when I was 3. I wrote another narrative about my mom, who is Palestinian, and the rumors being spread that she was Muslim. I remembered that from when I was 8. I called that story "Habibi." It means "my love" in Arabic.

That's pretty powerful.

I also used that theme for my college essay.

How did you choose where you wanted to go to college?

I visited Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., in February and I entered a creative writing scholarship competition. I got a second-prize $16,000 scholarship. So obviously, that's where I'll be going.

Does the thought of going away to college excite or scare you?

It's terrifying.

When will you need to pack up to leave?

Sometime in August. I'm really too scared to look at the date. I wish you could test-drive a college like you test-drive a car. Why do semesters have to last a full three months?

And do you think you'll miss your younger brother when you move away?

Probably more than I think I will.

When did you find out that you had won the big scholarship that you'll be picking up at Carnegie Hall?

That was in March, the best month of my life. They said congratulations and I don't remember much beyond that.

If you had a chance to talk to your younger self, let's say Samantha at the age of 13, what you would you tell her?

I would tell her to stop putting too much effort into physics. It's not going to pay off; you're a writer. I would also tell her to stop writing about Mary Sues.

What's a Mary Sue?

It's a perfect character. You always need to give your characters some flaws. They're a lot more interesting.