My Poem is Life: Celebrating Winners of the 2023 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards
By Hannah Kucharzak
Read Time 5 minutes
August 14, 2023
My Poem is life, and not finished.
It shall never be finished.
My Poem is life, and can grow.
― Gwendolyn Brooks, from “Winnie”
More than 800 students across Illinois submitted their original poems to be judged in the 2023 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards (GBYPA). Gwendolyn Brooks, a lifelong Chicagoan and the first Black author to win a Pulitzer Prize, created the writing contest in 1969, aiming to enrich the lives of young people by encouraging curiosity and artistic expression.
Attesting to the spirit of the awards, Brooks once said, “Very early in life I became fascinated with the wonders language can achieve. And I began playing with words.” That “play” is evident in all our young poets’ work, illustrating the range and depth of our youth’s perspectives. This year’s winners display poetic fortitude, courage, and imagination. Their work notably goes above and beyond to express the power of their message through proficiency with diction, as well as skillful demonstration of poetic devices such as metaphor, symbolism, and allusion.
“Our young writers are asking themselves big questions around their own existence in the world and where they fit into it,” said Meredith Nnoka, Illinois Humanities’ Community Educator and one of GBYPA’s judges. Interestingly, a significant number of submissions were simply titled “Life,” signaling that young people use poetry as an outlet to engage their inner thoughts and emotions and express those ideas on paper.
Several dozens more poems were thematically linked with titles such as “Spring” and “Summer,” in which the poets turned their reflection outward. “They’re also asking a lot of questions about the natural world and our changing climate, while trying to figure out what they can do in the face of these changes,” Nnoka shared. “I’m always pleased to see that students across all ages are thinking about these things, but especially that the task of asking is leading them to write poems that they feel proud of.”
The astounding work produced by our winners is a testament to the brilliance and vulnerability of the young artists among us, regardless of how fluent they are in picking up their pens to write. We are honored to share their poems with readers of all ages, in Illinois and beyond.
About this year's awards
Gwendolyn Brooks began the Youth Poetry Awards in 1969 during her tenure as Illinois Poet Laureate and continued the awards until her passing in 2000. Illinois Humanities joined together with the Poetry Foundation, Brooks Permissions, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts to revive the youth poetry awards in 2017 to honor her tremendous legacy.
Designed for K-12 students, two awardees per school grade receive the Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award, including a monetary prize and publication in a chapbook containing all winners’ work. One honorable mention is also selected for each grade to receive recognition and publication in the chapbook.
For this year’s seventh annual awards, Illinois Humanities embarked on the mission to increase accessibility and awareness of the prestigious competition. Alongside several organizations around Illinois—including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Young Chicago Authors, Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, the King Branch of Chicago Public Library, and the Midwest Writing Center—we brought together young writers hoping to submit their poems to this year’s contest for a series of in-person writing workshops. Here, they found their artistic voices and learned how to express themselves through language.
What resulted was poetry in motion—we received nearly double the number of submissions as in previous years. Nnoka adds, “Last year we received twice as many submissions as Gwendolyn Brooks ever received during her tenure, which makes this year’s results that much more powerful.”
Brooks’s legacy lives on through new, contemporary voices reflecting the joys and challenges of what it means to be a young person today. Congratulations to this year’s prizewinners!
Winners of the 2023 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards
Read all the winning poems in this year's chapbook.
- Winner: Faith Shelby, “My family rains snow” (Oak Park)
- Winner: Glenn Cambalik, “Giganto Cat” (Oak Park)
- Honorable Mention: Freyja Sieg, “The Love” (Oak Park)
- Winner: Aria Hampton, “The Wind” (Chicago)
- Winner: Maeve Rogers, “The Seaside” (Savoy)
- Honorable Mention: Binna Schwartz, “Candy” (Chicago)
- Honorable Mention: Ethan Grinstein, “My First Day of School” (Chicago)
- Winner: Krishna Rajan, “The Spelling Bee” (Chicago)
- Winner: Ethan Margulies, “Corey” (Chicago)
- Honorable Mention: Clara Alfaia, “Earth, Our Home” (Chicago)
- Winner: Dash Carr, “[found poem]” (Oak Park)
- Winner: Miriam Palmer, “The Faun in the Forest” (Skokie)
- Honorable Mention: Emily Watkins, “Love before Peace” (Chicago)***
- Winner: Gracelin Cassidy, “A Girl Named Mia” (Monmouth)
- Winner: Charlotte Chung, “The Sadness of Pollution” (Chicago)***
- Honorable Mention: Vera Volckens, “Fading, Fading away” (Oak Park)
- Winner: Seham Matariyeh, “Second Generation Daughter” (Orland Park)
- Winner: Luke Hong, “Wild Freedom” (Hinsdale)***
- Honorable Mention: Noah Shiber, “The Moon and the Sea” (Chicago)
- Winner: Simon Gudell, “Cannon” (Chicago)
- Winner: Anna Palmer, “The Mountains of Rushing Waters” (Skokie)
- Honorable Mention: Trinity Rucker, “Years and Years” (Rockford)
- Winner: Mia Suhr, “Today” (Salem)
- Honorable Mention: Henry Downing, “Hall of Mirrors” (Skokie)
- Honorable Mention: Patrick Chan, “The Thief behind the Shattered Mirrors” (Skokie)
- Winner: Eleanor Bertelsen, “The Sun’s Sisters” (Geneseo)
- Winner: Henry Bohanon, “Neptune and the Salamander” (Skokie)
- Honorable Mention: Jonathan Ry Thach, “Where the Wind Blows” (Skokie)
- Winner: Camila Bravo, “Love and Shame” (Chicago)
- Winner: MiKaylah Brown, “Ophelia” (Caseyville)***
- Honorable Mention: Justina Muszynski, “Mushroom Cloud” (Chicago)
- Winner: Robert Gao, “American Sun” (Champaign)
- Winner: Adelia Sandifer, “Transcriptions of Two Voicemails” (Alton)
- Honorable Mention: Morgan Montoya, “Cre(m)ation of Memory” (Chicago)
- Winner: Sophia Memon, “Beautiful Mess” (Chicago)***
- Winner: Sophie Lin, “su liao de ai (plastic love)” (Naperville)
- Honorable Mention: Hannah Bilgin, “What We Use as Medicine” (Chicago)
- Honorable Mention: Mateo Murphy, “The Monsters that Hide behind her Silence” (Monmouth)
- Winner: Anonymous, “Endurance Test” (Naperville)
- Winner: Ashtynn Geans, “beans (rebrewed)” (Chicago)
- Honorable Mention: Annie Wu, “Lifeline” (Chicago)***
***Denotes a previous winner or honorable mention
Attend the Awards Ceremony
Join Illinois Humanities and Brooks Permissions as we honor the winners of the 7th Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards! The Ceremony will take place at the Reva and David Logan Center of the Arts on September 9, 2023. During this celebration, you will experience the thoughts, wisdom, joy, and pain of today’s youth. Save your spot and RSVP today for this exciting display of talent.