Sparta student wins NYT contest

| 17 Jan 2019 | 09:33

"Clever use of language...insightful perspective." Those comments were written by the New York Times about a NYT essay contest entry by Sparta High School senior Simone Levien. The annual contest gives students opportunity to write a review of any creative work.
While many student entrants wrote a review of art, movies, or theater. Levien, 18, was one of the top ten winners for having written about his favorite type of keyboard. It's an essay intitled "The Functional Art at Your Fingertips," written as a review of a keyboard called the "Happy Hacking Board" (HHKB). Levien perceives its design to be admirably creative and funcional.
"I wrote the essay about mechanical computer keyboards," Levien said. "Most normal computer keyboards use rubber domes to make the keys work, while mechanical keyboards often use a sliding element, spring, and other mechanisms. Mechanical keyboards are great; they're extremely customizable and modular. There's a whole nerdy community of about 300,000 of us who just have fun tinkering with keyboards online. I felt that I was knowledgeable enough to write about it."
What does the win mean to Levien?
"A lot," he said. "It's great to have my nerdism read and recognized by New York Times editors."
Levien's English teacher, John Hier, says he feels especially gratified by this particular, creative achievement.
"It is true that Simon's gifted intellect has taken him to unprecedented heights within the field of high school Science. However...this time around Simon has been recognized, and not for the first time, for his extremely graceful and engaging writing style; a style, I might add, that one typically does not encounter at the secondary level."
Who does Levien credit for his writing successes?
"Mr. Donald Schwartz from the Curious Science Writers Organization, for helping me over the summer to clarify scientific research journals for easy-on-the-eyes, general-interest articles," Levien said. "I tried to apply what I learned to keyboards, and I hope that anyone could get what I talk about in the article, I tried to remove most of the keyboard geek lingo so hopefully it's readable."
He'd also like to thank his parents "for dealing with me. And my English teachers, for encouraging me."
Levien considers writing a gateway discipline.
"That's essential for any profession and for interdisciplinary discussion into other topics. It builds bridges."
Levien was one of the top ten winners, amid a field of almost 2,000 entrants. There were additionally 13 runners-up and 32 honorable mentions. To view the essay visit