By Kelsey Bartlett
Hunched forward in his seat, Joshua Ward waited with hands clasped as Nikki Giovanni, a renowned author, University Distinguished Professor Emerita, and the founder in 2006 of the poetry prize competition, read the names of the night’s winners of the 17th annual Giovanni-Steger Poetry Prize competition.. When she called his name, he looked surprised. Then, he burst into a smile as he rose to collect his prize and shake the hand of a legend.
Ward took first place for his poem “The Drawing Night” at the 17th annual Giovanni-Steger Poetry Prize Ceremony held Feb. 21 in the Anne and Ellen Fife Theatre in Moss Arts Center.
Ward, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fish and wildlife conservation and a minor in creative writing in December, was awarded $1,500 and will receive “The Steger,” a piece of art that this year was crafted by Virginia Tech students at the Kroehling Advanced Materials Foundry on campus.
“It blows me away, to be honest,” he said of his win. “At first, I was very hesitant to submit a poem. Like a lot of people, I didn’t think I would get very far. But I just thought, ‘Let’s do one last wild thing. Let’s just shoot for the moon.’”
Ward said he has loved the outdoors since he was a child and hopes to become a nature writer.
His award-winning poem was inspired by a night that he spent meditating in Caldwell Fields, a camping and recreation area near Blacksburg.
“To say that I was influenced by my major and by my passions is an understatement,” Ward said. “Nature needs assistance. It needs help. And it needs that in all fields of work. If a piece of nature poetry can win a competition like this — that’s another step.”
The $800 second-place prize was awarded to Makenna DeTorres, a creative writing major, for “Read. Unread.” Rowan Lacey, a psychology major, and Kayla Bourret, a creative writing major, tied for third place with their poems “Seaweed Green” and “Doing and Undoing,” respectively. Both were awarded $500.
This year, the competition teamed with Artemis Journal, a poetry publication that will publish the winning poems in an upcoming edition.
“We want to be No. 1,” Giovanni said. “And in order to be a national poetry prize, we have to have a national view. And in order for that to happen, we have to keep reaching out.”
She ended the evening with “A Toast to Poetry,” an ode to the ways poetry helps readers feel less lost and alone and celebrate the wonders of life.
“Let’s raise our glasses for how wonderful it is that poems take such good care of us,” Giovanni concluded.
Other finalists included:
Kaitlyn Grube, a creative writing major, for “Softer this Time”
Joe Hughes III, a creative writing major, for “I die on your screen”
Shruthi Manimaran, an English, creative writing, and professional and technical writing major, for “Refugees in Martha’s Vineyard”
Nya Nesbit, a psychology major, for “Fifth Chair”
Grace Turner, a creative writing major, for “Intrauterine by Design”
Maria Ziu, a physics major, for “Bunu”
Honorable mentions went to:
Calvin Brown, an aerospace engineering major, for “Sleep Evades Me”
Reid Burton, a marketing major, for “The Lake Isle of Tennessee”
Eira Calderon, an industrial design major, for “The Glass Door in My Kitchen”
Cassandra Cogan, an international relations major, for “Blacksburg, September”
Grace Daniels, an English, creative writing, and professional and technical writing major, for “My Mother’s Quilt”
Emelia Delaporte, a professional and technical writing and multimedia journalism major, for “Strawberry Plains”
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