Student Reads at Wawa Welcome America Festival
August 19, 2021
First-year student Isabel Rose Catalan '25 (Creative Writing) was no stranger to reading her work aloud in small venues with friends and fellow students present. But this summer, over the Fourth of July weekend, the Philadelphia native spoke to her largest crowd yet: holiday revelers attending the city's Wawa Welcome America Festival.
Catalan took the stage at the Barnes Foundation Friday, July 2, and read her poem "Sentence Kisses for a City" to several hundred attendees. The piece propelled Catalan to a second-place finish in the I Am College Bound spoken-word performance contest, sponsored by the nonprofit PhillyGoes2College. The organization teamed up with the festival to celebrate the voices and aspirations of Philadelphia's youth, and Catalan and contest winner Candelaria Beatty were invited to present public readings during the event.
Catalan entered the contest after learning of the opportunity from her counselors at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA). She also received a heavy dose of support and encouragement from her grandmother, who she lives with in the city's Roxborough neighborhood.
"I was not expecting to win at all," Catalan said. "It was really just making the attempt and putting myself out there. That's all that my grandmother wanted for me."
"Sentence Kisses for a City" was written in just two days, with a third day devoted to memorization and recording for her contest submission video. In it, Catalan recites her piece, through which she expresses her experiences as a creative person born and raised in Philadelphia. Her performance, captured in her dining room, is surrounded by books, a constant presence in her life.
"Even getting rid of four bankers boxes' worth of books and donating them here and there, there are tons of books in this house," Catalan said.
Writing has been a decade-long personal pursuit and an ideal career for Catalan, who discovered her affinity for it at age nine, when she penned a riff on Charles Dickens' Great Expectations in her school-issued notebook. Fantasy, Catalan says, will always be her reading and writing preference, but she also discovered that poetry could flow from her effortlessly.
"I figured it out early on," she said. "I've been so, so lucky and blessed that I had a supportive mother, a supportive family, teachers and people around me who were like, 'OK, we recognize the talent. We want to foster this into a skill, into something that she can do for the rest of her life if she wants to.'"
Catalan would pass UArts' campus every day during her four years at CAPA as she commuted to school on SEPTA's 32 bus. Hamilton Hall and CAPA share a familiar architectural style and prominence on Broad Street. When she was applying to schools, Catalan said, UArts was at the forefront of her choices because of its strong Creative Writing program and location in her hometown. This fall, she's looking forward to taking the same bus route but getting off a few stops earlier.