The New York Public Library and Teen Vogue Announce Winner of Freedom to Read, the Library’s National Teen Writing Contest

APRIL 8, 2024 — The New York Public Library and Teen Vogue announced today the grand prize winner of the Library’s National Teen Writing Contest which asked teens across the country to answer the question, “Why is the freedom to read important to you?” Tara Isabel Lago, an undergraduate from Staten Island, won for her essay, “The Luminosity of Reading.” In addition to publication in Teen Vogue, Lago received a prize of $500. The contest is part of the Library’s Books for All campaign, the largest and longest anti-censorship campaign in NYPL history, which launched during Banned Books Week in October. Books for All was created in response to the alarming rise in book bans and challenges around the country. 

Tara, 18, is a poet, essayist, and storyteller from Staten Island. She is currently a student at Columbia University, where she enjoys exploring the intersections between science and art. In her grand-prize-winning essay, Tara describes participating in Morningside Lights—an annual procession featuring volunteer-constructed lanterns. Her lantern, and others in the year she participated, highlighted great books. She uses this event to reflect on the necessity of community-building in the pursuit of intellectual freedom. 

“Congratulations to Tara and all of our winners for their inventive and engaging essays. At a time when book bans are at an all-time high, it’s heartening to see so many teens actively making their voices heard on the crucial topic of the freedom to read,” said NYPL President Anthony W. Marx.

Tara Isabel Lago said, "I'm so excited to be chosen as the winner of NYPL's Freedom to Read writing contest for teens. Libraries have always supported me in my journey as a writer and reader, and I’m so happy I’m able to showcase the power of reading freely through my essay."

"We were thrilled to see the enthusiasm from all the young writers who participated in this contest—a real moment of encouragement and optimism, as book bans continue to spread across the country," said Versha Sharma, Editor-in-Chief of Teen Vogue. "What we loved about Tara's submission is how it's a story that highlights exactly how books can bring people, and strangers, together. Across generations, across geography—how stories can take on a life of their own once they leave the writer's hands. I hope everyone reads it and we're so happy to publish it."

This announcement comes on the same day that the American Library Association (ALA), announced the top 10 most banned books of 2023. The Library partnered with ALA, the foremost national organization representing the nation’s 123,000 libraries, to help the Books for All campaign reach libraries across the country. Last month, ALA released data that showed a 65 percent rise in book challenges in the US, a record high. The data also showed that public libraries are increasingly being targeted for book bans and challenges. 

In addition to the grand prize winner, there were 20 winners from 11 different states (see below). Winning essays tackled the prompt in many different ways. Some shared stories of how they stood up to book bans by speaking at school board meetings. Others wrote movingly about how books have shaped and affirmed their identities. Close to 500 teens entered the contest from 36 different states.

All winners will be published in a special edition of NYPL’s Teen Voices magazine, available in print and digital formats in early June. Magazines will be distributed to all NYPL branches and at select locations around the country. 

Grand Prize Winner

  • The Luminosity of Reading by Tara Isabel Lago, 18, New York


  • Finding Pride Within the Pages by Alice Wolf, 16, California
  • Late Bloomer by Aliyah Sarmiento, 17, Florida
  • The Crime of Indifference by Amanda Gao, 16, New York
  • What Does The Freedom To Read Mean To Me? by Amina Walker, 16, New York
  • A Lone Student’s Merit by Angelina Meng, 17, New York
  • Hunger by Anonymous, 16, California
  • My Home by Avah Montgomery, 16, Arizona
  • An Open Book by Caelynn P., 15, Minnesota
  • Who Am I Without Books? by Camille Fallen, 15, Virginia
  • And He Lived Happily Ever After by Connor Chan, 17, New York
  • Intertwined by Dana Balin, 16, New York
  • Allow Us Understanding by Draimely G., 16, New York
  • Using Your Words by Eliot Fowler, 13, Maine
  • An Ode to Banned Books by Elora P-M., 19, Maryland
  • My First Favorite Book by Heba Elkouraichi, 16, New York
  • The Night I Stood, and the Night They Listened by Ivan Torres, 18, New Mexico
  • Book Bans, Political Censorship Have No Place in Our Nation’s Classrooms, by Joshua Weissenberger 18, South Dakota
  • The Timeline from My Grandma’s Ink by Luna Lee, 15, Connecticut
  • The Lives Between the Lines by Maya H., 16, New York
  • Paper Cut by Oluwatoyin Kupoluyi, 19, New York

About The New York Public Library

For over 125 years, The New York Public Library has been a free provider of education and information for the people of New York and beyond. With over 90 locations—including research and branch libraries—throughout the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island, the Library offers free materials, computer access, classes, exhibitions, programming and more to everyone from toddlers to scholars. The New York Public Library receives millions of visits through its doors annually and millions more around the globe who use its resources at To offer this wide array of free programming, The New York Public Library relies on both public and private funding. Learn more about how to support the Library at 

About Teen Vogue

Teen Vogue is the young person’s guide to conquering (and saving) the world. The brand aims to educate, enlighten and empower its audience to create a more inclusive environment (both on-and offline) by amplifying the voices of the unheard, telling stories that normally go untold, and providing resources for young people looking to make a tangible impact in their communities. Part of the Condé Nast portfolio, Teen Vogue covers the latest in celebrity news, politics, fashion, beauty, wellness, lifestyle, and entertainment.


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