Award-winning slam poet Neil Hilborn wrote his first piece when he was eight years old.
“It was garbage,” he told students gathered for the Writing Center’s 2017 Academies Awards for Excellence program on Thursday. But as he grew older and began classes at Macalester College, he began to realize that he did have a gift for writing – and rewriting, and rewriting.
“I’m a better editor than I am a writer,” he said. Hilborn and his Malcalester College teammates won the College National Poetry Slam competition in 2011. In 2013, his performance of the poem OCD at the Rustbelt poetry slam went viral on YouTube. It now has nearly 58 million views.
Hilborn’s best-selling book Our Numbered Days deals with love, heartbreak, and mental illness. He performed OCD, along with The Future, which deals with his bipolar disorder, along with poems from his new book that will be available this fall.
He agrees with people who say he “got lucky,” but Hilborn is also quick to add that he has put in “so much work to have that luck.” That includes five years of traveling non-stop to colleges and high schools “screaming loudly at people” while performing his poetry.
Hilborn told the students that if they wanted to be successful writers, they need to put themselves “in position to have that luck.” That includes writing and reading every day.
Over 200 entries were received by the Writing Center for the Academies Awards competition, director Emily Uebler said. The winner and runner-up in each category were (winners listed first):
- History or Politics: Alexa Donsbach and Sarina McCabe
- Honors Research: Inho Kang and Troy Shen
- Literature, Art, Film, Music: Yu Jin Lee and Gabrielle Woempner
- Narrative (9-10): Marina Padilla and Sarah Chandler
- Narrative (11-12): Mya Weeks and Victoria Anozie
- Persuasive: Charlotte Root and Yu Jin Lee
- Poetry (9-10): Eugenia Wang and Camille Thoms
- Poetry (11-12): Madeleine Barberian and Alex Mozer
- Science: Sandra Smith and Charles Zhang
- Short Story: Alex Mozer and Madeleine Barberian
- Speech (9-10): Amina Shafeek-Horton and Ben Marquis
- Speech (11-12): Victoria Anozie and Susan Westman
- Wellness: Leticia Zavala-Soto and Brian Krupp
- Overall Winner: Troy Shen