Steger Poetry Prize Winners Carry on a Divine Tradition

228
Nikki Giovanni in front of the 22 Steps, an ongoing poetry installation at the Moss Arts Center.
Internationally renowned poet Nikki Giovanni stands in front of 22 Steps, on ongoing Moss Arts Center installation that presents poetry as a spatial and visual experience unleashed from the confines of the printed page.

“Poetry is sacred, and if this were a sacred space, we would open with ‘Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,’” Nikki Giovanni told an audience at the Moss Arts Center. Then, after admitting the microphone was just too tempting, she offered several lines of the 1887 hymn.

“What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” she sang. “What a blessedness, what a peace is mine, leaning on the Everlasting Arms!”

And so Giovanni opened the latest Nikki Giovanni Celebration of Poetry, which each year honors the talents of undergraduates chosen as Steger Poetry Prize finalists.

Now in its 14th year, Virginia Tech’s annual poetry competition is held every April, during National Poetry Month. Giovanni, a University Distinguished Professor of English, established the poetry competition and named it for its first benefactor, the late Charles W. Steger, who served as the university’s president at the time.

This year’s finalists represent majors ranging from creative writing to biology, philosophy, and political science. During the ceremony, the finalists took turns reading their entries, alternating with poems chosen and read by Department of English faculty members and invited guests.

Awarded first place was Emily Webb, a senior majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for her poem, “Veritas Filia Temporis.”

As first-place winner, Webb received $1,100, the largest monetary award of any university-sponsored poetry competition in the Western Hemisphere. Webb also accepted a piece of handcrafted art by local jeweler Faith Capone. Known as “the Steger,” the sterling-silver artwork has an inset magnifying glass to symbolize the power of poetry to enlarge our understanding of the world.

The second-place, $500 prize was awarded to Kyle Siecker for his poem, “In winter I dream of things with wings.” Siecker is a junior majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

Karim Eltawansy, a senior majoring in communication studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, won the third-place, $300 prize for his poem, “Starring as an Arab American Kid.”

In addition to the winners, seven students received honorable mentions:

  • Samuel James, a senior majoring in philosophy and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Ode on the Death of a Mouse, Killed by My Peanut Butter Trap”;
  • Susan Rodriguez, a senior majoring in biology in the College of Science and literature and language in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “telling time”;
  • Julia Simpson, a junior majoring in biology in the College of Science and Spanish in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “all out”;
  • Valerie Tran, a sophomore majoring in English, creative writing, and political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “The Possibility of Apples”;
  • Cam Wheatley, a senior majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “Dania Beach”;
  • Hannah Wynne, a senior majoring in creative writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “I could tell her”; and
  • Avy Zhao, a sophomore majoring in literature and language, creative writing, and professional and technical writing in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for “We don’t do that here.”
Pictured from left are Karim Eltawansy, Kyle Siecker, Emily Webb, Susan Rodriguez, Nikki Giovanni, Valerie Tran, Samuel James, Julia Simpson, Hannah Wynne, Cam Wheatley, and Avy Zhao.
Pictured from left are Karim Eltawansy, Kyle Siecker, Emily Webb, Susan Rodriguez, Nikki Giovanni, Valerie Tran, Samuel James, Julia Simpson, Hannah Wynne, Cam Wheatley, and Avy Zhao.

The competition is administered by Giovanni; co-directed by Aileen Murphy and Joe Scallorns, both senior instructors in the Department of English; and organized and judged by the Steger Committee.

In addition to Giovanni, Murphy, and Scallorns, the committee members include Sharon Johnson, an associate professor of French and francophone studies in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures; Christine Labuski, an associate professor in the Department of Sociology; and Gena Chandler-Smith, an associate professor; Virginia Fowler, a professor; Thomas Gardner, an Alumni Distinguished Professor; Ennis McCrery, an adjunct instructor; Lucinda Roy, an Alumni Distinguished Professor; and Gyorgyi Voros, a senior instructor, all in the Department of English.

Support for the award competition and the Nikki Giovanni Celebration of Poetry 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.

Photography by Richard Allnutt.

Emily Webb
Emily Webb took first place for her poem, “Veritas Filia Temporis,” which translates to “Truth is the daughter of time.”

 

Kyle Siecker
Kyle Siecker won second place for his poem, “In winter I dream of things with wings.”
Karim Eltawansy
Karim Eltawansy, a communication studies major, won third place for “Starring as an Arab American Kid.”
Nikki Giovanni laughs while standing at the podium.
Nikki Giovanni, who has taught at Virginia Tech since 1989, is celebrated for both her poetry and her advocacy. She has received seven NAACP Image Awards, the Langston Hughes Award for Distinguished Contributions to Arts and Letters, the Rosa Parks Women of Courage Award, and the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award from the Library of Virginia.
Susan Rodriguez and Samuel James
Steger Poetry Prize finalists Susan Rodriguez and Samuel James are both seniors majoring in literature and language. Rodriguez is also pursuing a major in biology while James is also majoring in philosophy.
Steger Poetry Prize finalists Avy Zhao (center) and Julia Simpson (far right) gather with friends after the poetry readings.
Steger Poetry Prize finalists Avy Zhao (center) and Julia Simpson (far right) gather with friends after the poetry readings.
Janet Steger
Janet Steger is a long-time supporter of the Steger Poetry Prize, which was founded by her late husband, Charles W. Steger, and Nikki Giovanni in 2005.
First-place winner Emily Webb (left) joins Lucinda Roy, an Alumni Distinguished Professor of English, and Hannah Wynne, a Steger Poetry Prize finalist.
First-place winner Emily Webb (left) joins Lucinda Roy, an Alumni Distinguished Professor of English, and Hannah Wynne, a Steger Poetry Prize finalist.
Visitors to the Moss Arts Center read 22 Steps, on ongoing installation that offers a new poem each season. Cascading down the steps are lines to this season’s poem, Emilio Santini’s “Ice storm.”
Visitors to the Moss Arts Center read 22 Steps, on ongoing installation that offers a new poem each season. Cascading down the steps are lines to this season’s poem, Emilio Santini’s “Ice storm.”