Thirty-Fourth Annual New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival Winners!

We’re proud to announce the winners of the thirty-fourth annual New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival!


The winners of the High School division are:

  • “Packing” by Michael Villanueva, Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools – East Brunswick
  • “Trust No One” by Gabrielle Poisson, Newark Academy
  • “Learn Your ABCs” by Elijah Gaines, of Lindenwold High School, & Jaleel Lindsey, from the Greenfields Residential Community Home
  • “Smileby Kianni Keys, Newark Academy
  • “Hot Dogs and Feminism” by Jasmine Sharma, Bergen County Academy for Visual & Performing Arts.

The winners of the Elementary School division are:

  • “Girl World, Boy World” by Isabella Cerciello, St. Vincent Martyr School, Madison, 4th grade
  • “Robot House” by Luke Sherman, Torey J. Sabatini School, Madison, 4th grade
  • “Techno Takeover” by Darren Van Pelt, Manasquan Elementary School, 6th grade

The winners of the Junior High School division are:

  • “Chow Chow” by Marra Finkelstein, Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School, Wyckoff, 8th grade
  • “Dog Sitters” by Lena Schmitt, Frelinghuysen Middle School, Morristown, 8th grade
  • “‘My Extraordinary World’ by Charlie McLace” by Maya Levenstein, Great Meadows Middle School, Hackettstown, 8th grade


Over 450 plays were submitted for this year’s New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival, the third-oldest young playwrights festival in the country.  Finalists had their plays critiqued by professional playwrights from all over the United States, allowing them the valuable chance to learn from these professionals and to revise their work, making it stronger before resubmitting it for final consideration. The New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival winners will receive Governor’s Awards, a one-year membership to the Dramatists Guild, the professional playwrights union; and will have their plays staged in a reading with professional actors and directors in June.

Both Gabrielle Poisson and Jasmine Sharma are two-time winners, with Poisson having won in 2015 and Sharma in 2016. Sharma also has two poems represented in the NJ Youth Poet Laureate contest. Elijah Gaines, of Lindenwold High School, & Jaleel Lindsey, from the Greenfields Residential Community Home, also won the Kennedy Center’s VSA Playwright Discovery Award Program earlier this year with Learn Your ABCs. “No one is probably more surprised than Elijah and Jaleel,” said John Pietrowski, Writers Theatre’s Artistic Director. “They reluctantly wrote Learn your ABCs as part of a required workshop with Master Teacher Dominique Cieri at Greenfields Residential. As part of the workshop, they performed it with professional actors at NJPAC, then suddenly found themselves at The Kennedy Center in Washington DC, and now they have won a state award.” A selection from the performance at NJPAC is available on the home page of the WTNJ website at

Congratulations to the winners and to everyone who wrote and submitted plays to this year’s festival!