Giovanni-Steger Poetry Prize winners announced
February 28, 2022
Nikki Giovanni, internationally acclaimed poet and self-proclaimed space freak, opened her remarks at the most recent Giovanni Celebration of Poetry with a story about how she once tried to convince NASA to let her go into orbit.
A longtime friend, Gen. Charles Bolden Jr., was at the time head of the agency. “Charles,” she told the former astronaut, “I’d love to go into space.”
He explained that he couldn’t take her into space because he wouldn’t be able to bring her back safely; the removal of one of her lungs years earlier meant gravity would shift her organs and ultimately end her life.
“Charles, I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said, “but I’m going to die one day anyway and I’d just as soon it be in space. When I’m up there I want you to open the rocket door and let me out, so the kids can look up and say, “Oh, there goes Nikki!’ I just think it’d be so wonderful.”
Giovanni told the audience she believes the interstellar rights of poets have existed for millennia.
“It was the poets who first looked up at the stars and thought, how do you get to the stars? And you get to the stars through your heart, and I am very, very proud to be a poet.”
It was also with pride that Giovanni, the University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech, announced the winners of the annual Giovanni-Steger Poetry Prize.
Before she did so in the Feb. 8 ceremony in the Moss Arts Center, though, a video played of the 10 finalists and four students with honorable mentions reading their entries, alternating with poems chosen and read by honored guests. When the video ended, the students all joined Giovanni on stage, where she announced the awards.
As first-place winner, Delina Phicadu, a creative writing major, was awarded $1,500, the largest monetary award of any university-sponsored poetry competition in the Western Hemisphere, for her poem, “I Carry the Fruits of Her Labor and Wear It Like a Crown.” Phicadu also received a piece of handcrafted art by local jeweler Faith Capone. The artwork — a sterling-silver and crystal cylinder — has an inset magnifying glass to symbolize the power of poetry in enlarging our understanding of the world.
The $800 second-place prize went to Tayler Butters, a sophomore majoring in English, creative writing, and professional and technical writing, for “The Big H.”
Virgil Thornton, a senior majoring in civil and environmental engineering, took the $500 third-place award for “Black and Red.”
The other finalists were:
- Grace Daniels, a junior majoring in English literature, for “Ode to Milk Froth”;
- Hallie Foran, a junior majoring in architecture, for “Singed But Still Singing”;
- Joe Hughes III, a junior majoring in creative writing, for “Solar Powered LED Flashing Roundabout Sign”;
- Jessica Ly, a senior majoring industrial and systems engineering, for “The Language of the Immigrant Born”;
- Parker Morris, a junior majoring in creative writing, for “Smoke”;
- Grace Turner, a junior majoring in creative writing, for “Hummingbird”; and
- Charlotte Tury, a junior majoring in biological sciences, for “Ant Fishing.”
Honorable mentions went to:
- Amro Ali, a psychology major, for “I Am Afraid of Everything But Especially Myself”;
- Randall Burton, a marketing major, for “A Coffee Shop, April 15th”;
- Carolina Nunez, a multimedia journalism major, for “The Devil’s Caress”; and
- Amber Williams, a double major in sports media and analytics and in communication, for “The F Word.”
Giovanni established the poetry competition for Virginia Tech undergraduates in 2006 and named it for its first benefactor, Charles W. Steger, the university’s president at the time.
Each year the competition is administered by Giovanni and co-directed by Aileen Murphy and Joe Scallorns, both senior instructors in the Department of English. In addition to Murphy and Scallorns, this year’s Steering Committee members were Robin Allnutt, Lissa Bloomer, Gena Chandler, Virginia Fowler (honorary), Tom Gardner, Sharon Johnson, Christine Labuski, Mike Rosenzweig, Lucinda Roy, and Gyorgyi Voros.
Support for the award ceremony was provided by the Donna and Dennis Treacy Endowment for the Arts, Janet Steger, the Department of English, A.M. Squires Trust, and Union Bank.
Written by Paula Byron