Heidi Kaloustian

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Kaloustian Wins $50K Literature Scholarship

(Detroit Free Press)-When Heidi Kaloustian was in the second grade, she wrote a poem about thunder in the night. She framed her words in haiku, a Japanese form of poetry. The little girl found the dark storm peaceful.

Her mother, Lyn Kaloustian, taped the poem to the refrigerator in their Canton home. She realized, at that moment, that her daughter saw things differently than most second-graders.

This summer, Kaloustian, 17, was singled out by the Davidson Institute Fellows and awarded a $50,000 scholarship for literature. She is only the second Michigan student to receive the distinction in the five-year history of the program. Kaloustian dreams of writing novels.

The Davidson Institute for Talent Development in Reno, Nev., is a non-profit institute that awards hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to a handful of the country's brightest students.

Jan and Bob Davidson, the institute's founders, argue that American culture does not do enough to nurture gifted children and, in some cases, even squashes them.

"In education, we don't understand that they are exceptional students," Jan Davidson said. "There is a lack of understanding about their needs. People think that because they are smart, that they are wise. They're not. They're still children."

Forget, for a minute, the stereotyping that accompanies children who are smart. Forget the isolation, the taunting, the mistrust, and consider this point Bob Davidson makes: During last year's presidential campaign, both President George W. Bush and Senator John Kerry downplayed their Ivy League educations.

"Americans have always struggled with praising education but being suspicious of those who learn too much," Bob Davidson writes in his book Genius Denied, How to Stop Wasting our Brightest Young Minds.

The couple wanted to use their institute to identify kids such as Kaloustian, give them money for more education and push them further.

Kaloustian amazed her parents, teachers, friends and mentors from the time she started school.

Lyn Kaloustian said her daughter always has read voraciously. And, of course, there was that haiku.

"I couldn't believe it. I mean she was in the second grade," she said.

Last summer, Kaloustian, who's headed to the University of Michigan in the fall, was working on a collection of poetry and fiction called, The Roots of All Things, with her writing mentor at Plymouth-Canton Educational Park, taking part in poetry slams, transfixed to her laptop in her Canton home.

Out of that, came many poems and stories, including "Mrs. Emily," about suicide:

We learned afterward

from our mother's hushed voices in the kitchen

that she slit her white arms up and down

with her husbands razor.

She bled,

clumpy rose petals,

strawberry ice cream,

I imagine.

She bled from a great deep incision

like a crack in the seafloor.

Kaloustian, like many writers, isn't entirely sure where her stuff comes from, only that when she puts words on paper she discovers something, often about herself.

"As a writer you internalize, you take everything you see and you turn it into language," she said. "Writing was sort of my outlet, to observe and understand people."

AWOL (Armenian Weekly On-Line) December 3-9, 2005