‘Her powerful voice’

Cranston student earns recognition for short fiction, poetry


On March 7, Diana Champa of School One, along with local authors Taylor Polites and Hester Kaplan, surprised Cranston High School West senior Emily Durigan during her virtual English class to tell her she had been chosen as one of the top 10 entries among the 10th to 12th grade group in WriteRI’s annual statewide Short Fiction contest.

As a finalist, Emily will have her entry published in a book.

Emily had been interrupted while studying “Macbeth” in Stephanie Kaffenberger’s class, and she covered her mouth in surprise when her father, West teacher Sean Durigan, joined the virtual classroom. Cranston West Principal Thomas Barbieri was in attendance as well.

Emily’s short fiction entry, “The Magic of Music,” is written from the perspective of a father of a 7-year-old girl named Delaney, who learns after a period of illness that she has cancer. In the story, Delaney’s family resides in a historic house in Newport.

During Delaney’s exhausting cancer treatment, she begins music therapy, and develops the ability to play the guitar as she sings, which provides an inexplicable comfort to both her and her family.

One passage reads: “Mesmerized by her newfound ability to play and sing, I looked at the beautiful girl that I had raised, the one who was stronger than I could ever hope to be. I found my thoughts interrupted by her voice, it was full of more energy than I had heard in it in a long time. ‘See Dad, I made you stop crying. That’s the magic of music!’”

The emotional story tugged at the heartstrings of Kaffenberger and the WriteRI judges.

WriteRI is a partnership between School One – a progressive, independent high school in Providence – and the group Goat Hill Writers. According to its website, the competition is “open to all public, private, parochial, or home-school students throughout the Ocean State.”

Kaffenberger shared with the group that this was the second writing distinction won by Emily this academic year. In October, she won a nationwide poetry/spoken word contest sponsored by the Milken Institute for Strategic Philanthropy for her poem “We the People of Generation Z,” which tackles racism and inequality in America.

She now shares the rare distinction of being recognized by the Milken Center with Amanda Gorman, the 2016 Milken Scholar, who read the poem “The Hill We Climb” during President Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Emily explained that “The Magic of Music” was adapted and reborn from a piece she had written in middle school. She explained that she had finally reached an age where she was able to appropriately express the depth the story required.

“I like short fiction,” Emily said, “and I used to write it a lot, especially when I was younger.”

All the winners of the WriteRI’s statewide Short Fiction contest are scheduled to be announced this month. Winning entrants will receive gift bags and books featuring their winning pieces. They are hoping to participate in a recognition ceremony at the Newport Art Museum, with a time and date to be announced.

Kaffenberger, Cranston West’s ELA department chair, said Emily is “an intelligent, multifaceted young woman whose talents range from stellar softball player to exceptional writer. What impresses me most about Emily is her powerful voice, which she uses to effect change.”

Emily plays softball for both Cranston West and the Rhode Island Thunder, a national traveling softball team, and is looking forward to her upcoming season, scheduled to begin on April 26.

Emily was accepted to Seton Hall University during her junior year as a Division I softball player. She plans to major in public relations and minor in political science and hopes to enter broadcasting after graduation.


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