“I am still in disbelief!” Hunger Games contest winner Kayley Hyde has won a trip to NYC to meet author Suzanne Collins.

Scholastic announced today that 17-year-old Kayley Hyde of Seattle has won the publisher’s The Hunger Games essay contest. As grand prize winner, she will receive a trip to New York City, where she will be treated to lunch with author Suzanne Collins.

Kayley will also be given a signed, personalized copy of The Hunger Games, an autographed ARC of Catching Fire, the second installment of the Hunger Games Trilogy (due from Scholastic Press on September 1), and a collectible “mockingjay” pin.

The contest asked fans of the novel, which is set in a post-apocalyptic world, to answer the question, in 500 words or less, “How would you survive the Hunger Games?” In her winning essay (click here to read it), Kayley wrote that she would be the “girl with the silver tongue” and use her words to beat the other participants in the high-stakes Hunger Games competition.

Kayley was thrilled—and surprised—to hear the news that she had won. “To be honest, I had no idea that real people actually won this sort of contest,” she says. “You rarely hear of the actual winners. So when I randomly entered the contest one evening, I was really crossing my fingers for the runner-up prize of an advance copy of Catching Fire. But to actually win the grand prize? I am still in disbelief! It’s so exciting.”

David Levithan, v-p and editorial director of Scholastic Press, who was one of the essay contest judges, deems Kayley a worthy winner. “We were amazed by the creativity of so many of the entries,” he remarks. “But what really struck us with Kayley’s entry is how she worked creativity itself into the mix, and had some very artful things to say about the role of surviving the Hunger Games.”

Published in October 2008, The Hunger Games has more than 300,000 copies in print in the U.S. Catching Fire will have a first printing of 350,000 copies.