These have been a good few months for Rachel Rothenberg.
At the end of last year, this CAPA senior appeared on -- nay, dominated -- the Jeopardy Teen Tournament, walking away with $75,000 in prize money.
Not a bad way to end the recession.
Of course, 2010 is off to a pretty decent start, too. Ms. Rothenberg, of Squirrel Hill, recently won the Scholastic Writing "Portfolio Gold" Award, a prestigious accolade (and cash prize) given to only seven promising young writers in the country.
To give some perspective, recall that previous Scholastic award winners include Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath and Joyce Carol Oates. To quote Joe Biden, "This is a big f#^&in' deal."
Reading Rothenberg's portfolio (available at http://artandwriting.org/ORGGalleries), it's clear these Scholastic folks know what they're doing. Rachel's prose, poetry and a short play explore difficult questions about success, failure, innocence and culpability through the quiet tragedies of very tangible, plain-folks characters.
Each story feels organic, relevant (many are based on sociopolitical issues), and accessible. For an author to be able to narrate these heavy emotional moments so sincerely is impressive enough. Then you remember Rothenberg is in high school.
Yes, high school. She's at the point where the question "How did you begin writing?" leads to a story about kindergarten journals and "trippy" fairy tales.
Apart from her writing hobby, Rothenberg is a Jane-of-all-trades intern at City Councilman Bruce Kraus' office. ("They got me a cake. I can't say anything bad about them.") She's also an amateur banjo player in something very close to being a band: "There's no name. We just have a jam session every three months." And though she enjoys Flannery O'Connor and Jonathon Safran Foer, she's also a fan of Harlequin romances and Harry Potter fan-fiction.
"I'm endlessly entertained by the world," Rothenberg says. As an award-winning author and a television genius, it would seem her intellectual curiosity is (very literally) paying off. And she wouldn't mind too much if that continued. Where might her writing take her? "[S]omewhere that'll pay me," she laughs. But seriously, "I love it, it makes me happy. I'll do it regardless."
So: the million dollar question. What was Rothenberg's favorite big break so far?
"I might have to plead the fifth on that one," she laughs. "Either Alex Trebek or the Scholastic people will be out to get me!"