Q&A with Zion Alexis ’23, Scholastic Writing Award Winner

Shipley senior Zion Alexis ’23 received a Gold Key Award for his poem, “brown boy, PREP SCHOOL,” in the 2023 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, presented by Philadelphia Writing Project. He also received Silver Key Awards for his poem, “King,” and his writing portfolio, “Mortuary Science.” Zion’s writing received Honorable Mentions for his personal essay, “Buzzut,” and poem, “The Sea of the City.” A panel of creative professionals recognized Zion’s writing as the most outstanding work submitted by a group of his peers.

Since 1923, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards have recognized some of America’s most celebrated artists and writers while they were teenagers, including Tschabalala Self, Stephen King, Kay WalkingStick, Amanda Gorman, Charles White, Joyce Carol Oates, and Andy Warhol.

Learn more about Zion, his interest in creative expression, and how Shipley has pushed him to grow as a writer in this Q&A.

What grade are you in and when did you come to Shipley?
I am in 12th grade, and I came to Shipley in the 6th grade.

How do you feel about winning this award?
I felt very honored. There are people who want to hear what I have to say. So, it was validating knowing that there is room for my voice.

What was the inspiration for your poem “brown boy, PREP SCHOOL”?
I was inspired by Lorde’s 2013 song “Bravado.” The song is very anthemic and I’ve always admired Lorde’s songwriting. I wanted to try subverting the meaning of specific lyrics so that they could relate to my life. I wrote it because I wanted to create an anthem of my own. Since I’m used to creating poems, I tried to implement repeated song-like ‘choruses.’ I initially wrote this in the spring of 11th grade and kept coming back to it. It was one of those poems that were never truly done.

What are some of your interests/hobbies?
I love creative writing and creativity in general. I love to not only express myself through words, but also through clothing. I learned how to sew so I could alter my clothes. I also enjoy thrifting. My biggest joy is probably my love for live music. I love attending concerts with friends. In school I participate in the Upper School’s creative writing magazine, The Compass, and the school newspaper, The Beacon. I also am an active member in the school’s Black Student Union. Currently, I am the Indoor Track Team Manager.

In what ways has Shipley encouraged you to take risks and go outside of your comfort zone?
I have always taken risks in my English classes, all the way from middle school. I think, specifically, Shipley’s English classes facilitate conversations with different perspectives. Those different perspectives usually challenge my work and I love it. Before Shipley, I was very guarded with my words, verbally and on paper. Now, I have become a lot more comfortable sharing even some of my more personal pieces because of the encouraging environment in my English classes. Whether it is peer comments or feedback from my teachers, I can grow and write in a newfound way.

brown boy, PREP SCHOOL

they come from houses where they are taught to revere each other
i wonder if she feels smothered from the love of her younger brother

we chase our trains
holding our breath as
we run in the rain

they’re chasing the sky
they’re chasing fame
it’s not like that would forecast any change

they are mispronouncing me
And drew says don't let it be
He wants me to put up a fight
They never did get my name quite right

their parties do not cater to us
cuz they’re speaking way too much
about random letters
of potential admissions
or indefinite statistics

we’re above the endless competition
my grade point average will never be the topic of discussion
to these friends just politicking

our faces aren’t on their feeds
but i know they’re checking their cameras for security
check out the girls cuz they’re wearing their hearts on their sleeves
and the boys seem to watch the girls
cuz they didn’t learn anything about privacy
we see them skinny dip
let’s see them swim on our teams—
don’t think they were taught
how to breathe 6 feet deep

when they let us breathe
we conspire,
secretly meeting in the halls of 30th street
stacking up our cards higher and higher
positioned to aim
ready to fire

it’s a quick flip
it’s a code switch
it’s a new eclipse

our faces aren’t on their feeds
but i know they’re watching their cameras for security
watch out for the girls cuz they’re wearing their hearts on their sleeves
and the boys seem to check out the girls
their moms didn’t teach em anything about sobriety
…. we chase our trains
holding our breath as
we run in the rain
we lock eyes as we catch the 4:35.


The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.