Illinois Humanities celebrates young writers

Illinois Humanities, in partnership with Brooks Permissions, the Poetry Foundation, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, announces the winners of the 2023 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards, an annual competition for Illinois poets in grades K–12.

The 25 winners and 16 honorable mentions were chosen from a record 810 submissions representing 151 schools from across the state. Six of this year’s winning student poets are previous winners or honorable mentions of the Awards.

Gwendolyn Brooks began the Youth Poetry Awards in 1969 during her tenure as Illinois Poet Laureate and continued to administer the awards until her passing in 2000. The original youth poetry awards were born out of Ms. Brooks’s belief that a poet laureate “should do more than wear a crown—[she] should be of service to the young.” 

The winning poets will be celebrated on Saturday, September 9 at 1:00 p.m. during a ceremony at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Winners will recite their poems for friends, families, and teachers, plus, Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson will read a brand new poem written in honor of the winning students. The ceremony is open to the public, and guests can RSVP to attend here

“The annual Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards ceremony uplifts the insight, power, and creativity of our state’s young people,” said Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities. “Carrying forward Ms. Brook’s legacy and vision is a privilege.”

“The statewide competition provides a window into the joys and challenges of what it means to be a young person today, expressed through poetry,” said Meredith Nnoka, Illinois Humanities’ Community Educator and manager of the annual competition. “Our young writers are asking themselves big questions around their own existence in the world and where they fit into it.” 

In 2017, in honor of the centennial of Ms. Brooks’s birth, Illinois Humanities joined with the Poetry Foundation, Brooks Permissions, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts to revive the awards to honor the tremendous legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black person to win a Pulitzer Prize, and to celebrate and amplify the words and experiences of young writers from across Illinois. In the years since the revival of the awards, over 2,600 poems have been submitted from youth poets all across the state.

The Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards competition runs annually from November through May and is open to all young Illinoisans in grades K–12. This year’s winners will receive a monetary prize provided by Illinois Humanities as well as gift bundles that include poetry anthologies from the Library of America, a certificate, and a commemorative chapbook to celebrate and inspire a budding writing practice. 

The 2023 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award Winners are:

“My family rains snow” by Faith Shelby, Oak Park
“Giganto Cat” by Glenn Cambalik, Oak Park
Honorable Mention: “The Love” by Freyja Sieg, Oak Park

First Grade:
“The Wind” by Aria Hampton, Chicago
“The Seaside” by Maeve Rogers, Savoy
Honorable Mention: “Candy” by Binna Schwartz, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “My First Day of School” by Ethan Grinstein, Chicago

Second Grade: 
“The Spelling Bee” by Krishna Rajan, Chicago
“Corey” by Ethan Margulies, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Earth, Our Home” by Clara Alfaia, Chicago

Third Grade: 
“[found poem]” by Dash Carr, Oak Park
“The Faun in the Forest” by Miriam Palmer, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “Love before Peace” by Emily Watkins, Chicago

Fourth Grade: 
“A Girl Named Mia” by Gracelin Cassidy, Monmouth
“The Sadness of Pollution” by Charlotte Chung, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Fading, Fading away” by Vera Volckens, Oak Park

Fifth Grade: 
“Second Generation Daughter” by Seham Matariyeh, Orland Park
“Wild Freedom” by Luke Hong, Hinsdale
Honorable Mention: “The Moon and the Sea” by Noah Shiber, Chicago

Sixth Grade:
“Cannon” by Simon Gudell, Chicago
“The Mountains of Rushing Waters” by Anna Palmer, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “Years and Years” by Trinity Rucker, Rockford

Seventh Grade: 
“Today” by Mia Suhr, Salem
Honorable Mention: “Hall of Mirrors” by Henry Downing, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “The Thief behind the Shattered Mirrors” by Patrick Chan, Skokie

Eighth Grade: 
“The Sun’s Sisters” by Eleanor Bertelsen, Geneseo
“Neptune and the Salamander” by Henry Bohanon, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “Where the Wind Blows” by Jonathan Ry Thach, Skokie

Ninth Grade:
“Love and Shame” by Camila Bravo, Chicago
“Ophelia” by MiKaylah Brown, Caseyville
Honorable Mention: “Mushroom Cloud” by Justina Muszynski, Chicago

Tenth Grade: 
“American Sun” by Robert Gao, Champaign
“Transcriptions of Two Voicemails” by Adelia Sandifer, Alton
Honorable Mention: “Cre(m)ation of Memory” by Morgan Montoya, Chicago

Eleventh Grade: 
“Beautiful Mess” by Sophia Memon, Chicago
“su liao de ai (plastic love)” by Sophie Lin, Naperville
Honorable Mention: “What We Use as Medicine” by Hannah Bilgin, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “The Monsters that Hide behind her Silence” by Mateo Murphy, Monmouth

Twelfth Grade: 
“Endurance Test” by Anonymous, Naperville
“beans (rebrewed)” by Ashtynn Geans, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Lifeline” by Annie Wu, Chicago

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