Does writing prodigy exist? How to identify and nurture children with extraordinary writing talent
Piirto, J.
Talent Development: Proceedings from The 1991 Henry B. and Jocelyn Wallace National Research Symposium on Talent Development, pp.387-388
Trillium Press

This article is a book chapter excerpted from Talent Development. Author Jane Piirto states that writing prodigy may in fact be more common that previously thought. She provides an example and identifies 16 characteristics found in students who are writing at an advanced level of competence.

Writing prodigy may occur more frequently than commonly thought. Little analytical work has been done on the quality of the writing of young gifted children. The writing of seven students was analyzed: (1) four were selected from 400 students from a Manhattan, New York City, school for gifted children where mean IQ is 140+; (2) three were brought to the attention of the author by professional writers, parents, and administrators. Sixteen characteristics that determine the quality of the writing of talented young writers were generated. Biographies of adult creative writers were studied to determine situational factors that may lead to adult creative production in writing. This presentation is based on a chapter in a book: (Piirto, J. [in press]. Understanding those who create. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press).

The studies of adult creative writers have shown that they were early and passionate readers, encountering the written word with intense enjoyment, often using reading as an escape from the world. Little work has been done on the juvenilia of eminent writers. In fact, little work has been done on the quality of youthful creative production in most of the arts. Feldman (1986), in Nature's Gambit, did six case studies, and used the common definition that a prodigy is generally understood as being a child aged ten or under who produces work that is similar to that of adult professionals. Radford (1990), in Child Prodigies And Exceptional Early Achievers said that prodigies may also be older than ten, and their achievements may not have to have "lasting merit" (p.40). Feldman studied one writing prodigy and he asserted that prodigies are not commonly found in the writing domain. He gave two reasons: "The field itself has few organized supports or strategies for instruction in the craft..,(and) children normally lack the kind of experience, insight, and understanding that writers are expected to convey in their works" (p. 44).

There do seem to exist some children who do produce work in writing on an adult level of competence (Piirto, 1987, 1989a. b). I have studied the work of seven children. Here is an example of extraordinary poetry written by a child.

Sweet aromas fill the stallion's heart
Eyes of blue, hide of white,
Glimmering with its sweat
On the run, under burning sun.
As quick as a shimmering, sunny stream.
Panting wildly, wildly panting
Suede rabbit hops in its way.

This is a poem by a 9 year old girl. It illustrates unusual linguistic precocity in the repetition of consonant and vowel sounds (assonance and consonance), the sophisticated rhythms ("Eyes of blue, hide of white"; "on the run, under burning sun"; "Panting wildly, wildly panting") and the improbable images ("suede"). This girl was enrolled in a school for intellectually gifted children, but her ability far surpassed those of her intellectually gifted peers. A letter from her mother in 1990 said that she has continued to write and is in high school now, writing novels.

"Sweet aromas" in the horse's heart creates an initial paradox. It is not known, nor is it logical, that there would be aromas in a horse's heart. This girl pays no attention to the logic. The second line uses the repetitive device of parallel structure to create a rhythm. The third line sets ups visual image that is answered in line five--"glimmering" and "shimmering." In the fourth line, the letters "r", "u", and "n", are repeated in various melodic combinations: "run", "under", "burning," and then, the "run" is resolved into "sun," which is repeated in the next line, in an alliterative phrase, "shimmering sunny stream." The urgency of the reversed phrases in the fifth line, "panting wildly, wildly panting," keeps the excitement of the poem. Then, when a "suede" rabbit hops, we can feel the danger inherent in that ordinary situation. The use of the unusual adjective, "suede," to describes rabbit is in no way the usual cliche that people come up with when they refer to rabbits.

These are some of the qualities found in the writing of such children: (a) the use of paradox; (b) the use of parallel structure; (c) the use of rhythm; (d) the use of visual imagery; (e) melodic combinations; (f) unusual use of figures of speech, e.g.. alliteration, personification, and assonance; (g) confidence with reverse structure; (h) unusual adjectives and adverbs; (i) a feeling of movement; (j) uncanny wisdom; (k) sophisticated syntax using punctuation marks such as hyphens, parentheses, and semi-colons; (I) prose lyricism; (m) display of a "natural ear" for language; (n) sense of humor; (o) philosophical or moral bent; and (p) a willingness to "play" with words.

The early lives of such writers as George Eliot, Stephen Crane, Jane Austen, Sinclair Lewis, Dylan Thomas, Virginia Woolf, the Bronte sisters and brother, Tennessee Williams, John Updike, and Harry Crews are illustrative that many prominent writers wrote and read young, engaging the written word with commitment, emotion, imagination, and intellectual excitement. These experiences enabled the writers to achieve automaticity.


Feldman, D. (1986). Nature's gambit: Child prodigies and the development of human potential. New York Basic.

Piirto, J. (1987). The existence of writing prodigy. Paper presented at the National Association for Gifted Children Conference. New Orleans.

Piirto, J. (1989a). Does writing prodigy exist? Creativity Research Journal, 2. 134-135.

Piirto. J. (1988, May/June). Linguistic prodigy: Does it exist? Gifted Children Monthly, pp. 1-2.

Piirto, J. (in press). Creativity and giftedness. Dayton, OH: Ohio Psychology Press.

Radford, J. (1990). Child prodigies and exceptional early achievers. New York: Macmillan/The Free Press.

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