April 12-16, 2023



Middle School Writing Contest

The Middle School Writing Contest (formerly the High School Writing Contest) application is now open!

The North Carolina Azalea Festival introduced a new contest in 2017, the High School Writing Contest, in an effort to reach out to more youth in the greater Wilmington area.  In 2022 the Festival decided to move the 2023 contest to the Middle School level in hopes to engage younger minds in participation and see what creative works come to life in this age group! 

Middle School students are invited to submit either a descriptive essay or poem.  Many thoughtful, interesting, and creative entries are received and judged by a local team of writers. Winners and finalists are selected from each category and receive various prizes from the Azalea Festival and outside the community.

Love Where You Live…in the Springtime!
Writing submissions are due January 28th, 2023 for the Middle School Writing Contest. Students in middle schools across the state of North Carolina are invited to enter

2022 Winners

Essay Division

1st Place – Sara Frances Butler, 12 Grade, New Hanover High School 

Sara Frances Butler is the 1st place winner in the Essay category of the Azalea Festival High School Writing Contest with her piece titled, “Azaleas Behind the Oaks.”  She is an active 12th grader at New Hanover High School, carrying a challenging academic course load in the Lyceum program while playing on her school’s varsity basketball team and tennis team (where she was captain).  Her favorite subjects in school are English and Spanish.  In her spare time, she enjoys doing yoga, reading legal thrillers, and tutoring ESL middle school students, which she began doing during Covid times at El Cuerpo. She was instrumental in founding Student Voices, a district-wide student-lead committee that is focusing on long term youth engagement and leadership in the NHCS.  Sara Frances is looking forward to attending college in the fall to most likely study English and hopes to end up in Washington, DC one day working in some area within the government or governmental relations.

Azaleas Behind the Oak

Water sprinkles from the fronds of overhanging palms as a moist breeze pushes its way through the maritime forest. The sun had pried its way through the cracks of intertwined branches and soaked into the pavement, evaporating puddles from the morning drizzle. Spring was nudging its way through the island this morning and the cadent rustling of palm fronds sends me into a trance. The somber hum of cicadas and mourning doves masks the distant coo of an egret on the shore, just past the forest’s edge. A flash of pink dances across my eyes but disappears behind an oak. It could not have been an azalea; they aren’t in bloom yet. The chorus of humming, buzzing, and cooing along with the slow, yet perpetual, drip from the encroaching branches marches me along the forest path. My feet seem to assume the position of drums in our little band as they step, one, two, in front of me. Just as I had caught another glimpse of a flamingo-colored petal, a sudden snapping of twigs and crushing leaves force my eyes to avert from their enchanted stare. I jerk my head up as the blur of a white tail flees the scene. Frowning, I curse the forest that had enraptured me into missing the white-tailed beauty. I trudge down the path in silence. The asphalt beneath me soon dwindles into rocky sand, and the water’s edge becomes visible through the marsh. Stepping out onto a rickety boardwalk, reeds poke between the wooden boards, tickling my legs. The egret’s coo swivels my head around, and there it is: an entire bush of fuchsia azaleas looming behind an oak.

 Happiness sometimes seems as swift and unnoticeable as a deer in a forest, only recognized by the sound of crackling leaves as it escapes human sight. I cursed the buzzing of bugs, humming of birds, and constant drizzle that dragged my feet down the path, my eyes glued to them, forcing me to miss the deer. Amidst my frustration, my feet fell back in tune with the tranquil cadence of the forest, and I realized I had enjoyed its intonation all the while. Its unexciting presence had been there the whole time even though I cursed its name. It is the constant buzzing and humming of the forest, those things in life that are steadfast, often unnoticed, that carry my feet along the path. We often become so disillusioned by distractions such as flashy antlers and fast-running deer, that we lose sight of the world around us. Deer move fast, they come and go, and antlers are just for show; most of the time they are hung too high on the wall to even reach. Nevertheless, the forest will always remain. Winter has been long this year, but as the springtime awakens the forest, we must all stop to admire its beauty. Only when I came to appreciate the birds and bugs around me was I able to spot the azaleas. 

Poetry Division

1st Place – Jenna Ball, 10th Grade, New Hanover High School

Jenna Ball, a 10th grader from New Hanover High School, took 1st place in the Poetry category of the Azalea Festival High School Writing Contest with her poem, “Meeting the Azaleas.”  Not surprisingly, Jenna’s favorite subject in school is English where she especially enjoys reading and writing short stories.  In her spare time, she likes to act and sing and is in her school’s spring production of Into the Woods. She also enjoys watching Netflix, reading adventure fiction, and writing.   Jenna aspires to attend UNCW and study creative writing and French and possibly dabble in their Theater Arts program.  


Meeting the Azaleas


Still wrapped up in winter’s gloom,

I long to escape from this dreary tomb!

So one day I left my apartment block

and decided to take a nice, long walk.


The Wilmington area is not as frosty as the mountains,

I think as I stare into the cold water of the downtown fountain.

Maybe I would feel better if I treaded somewhere else?

Down to the local park I went, knowing I would disappoint myself.


While walking I smelled something sweet,

and I heard something, perhaps the burbling of a creek.

What could it possibly be?

I turned a corner on the winding path, and stopped by a tree.


Then, I saw something extraordinary.

A group of blooming azalea bushes, on the shore of a stream very ordinary.

Yet when I picked a little pink flower, and sniffed it with care,

I knew in my heart I could taste spring time magic in the air.


That was many years ago, now long since passed.

Though the joy I felt that day was never surpassed.

This bright memory during a dark time made me realize,

even during hard times, spring will always come back.

Past Winners

2021 Essay Winner – Mairead Benson,  John T. Hoggard High School 

2021 Poetry Winner – Adrian Jones, Cape Fear Academy

2020 Essay Winner – Madison Aloia, Jones Senior High School

2020 Poetry Winner – Jayson Cook, Laney High School

2019 Essay Winner – Abby Stone, Wilmington Christian Academy

2019 Poetry Winner – Madison Morrison, Wilmington Christian Academy

2018: Essay Winner – Hilary Batista, Ashley High School

2018: Poetry Winner – Katherine Neilson, Laney High School

2017: Essay Winner – Sarah Newton, Topsail High School

2017: Poetry Winner – Karleigh Kolander, Laney High School