By GUY LAMOLINARA
The River of Words annual awards ceremony, held at the Library on May 13, attracted grand prize winners and their families to Washington, D.C. The contest, designed to promote literacy, the arts and environmental awareness, is the largest youth poetry and art competition in the world.
Since 1995, the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress has cosponsored the annual competition with River of Words, a nonprofit organization (www.riverofwords.org ).
On the local level, a number of state centers for the book sponsor their own River of Words competitions.
The contest, which is open to young people in grades K through 12 anywhere in the world, receives more than 20,000 submissions annually from almost every state and many foreign countries.
The poems are judged by River of Words cofounders Robert Hass (U.S. Poet Laureate 1995-1997) and Pamela Michael, who also serves as the organization’s director. The artwork is judged by renowned children’s book author and illustrator Thacher Hurd.
The ceremony featured young people reading their poems about the natural world and an art display of this year’s winning landscape art.
“It’s thrilling to see, year after year, these young writers and artists giving us back the places where we live through their words and images,” said Robert Hass. “Through their explorations and reflection on their home grounds, we are all made more aware of the beauty, history and fragility of our natural landscapes.”
Each year, a River of Words “Teacher of the Year” is honored at the annual awards ceremony. This year that award went to Barbara Strasko, from Fulton Elementary School in Lancaster, Pa.
2009 River of Words Winners
Atalanta Shi, age 13, Canada
National Poetry Grand Prizes
- K-Grade 2: Quinn Whitlow, age 7, St. Louis Park, Minn.
- Grades 3-6: Yolanda Lockett, age 9, Lancaster, Pa.
- Grades 7-9: Savannah Fehling, age 14, Sarasota, Fla.
- Grades 10-12: Sklyer Pham, age 17, Opelousas, La.
National Art Grand Prizes
- K-Grade 2: Jake Barrios, age 7, Watsonville, Calif.
- Grades 3-6: Erik Raul Oliva, age 9, Chico, Calif.
- Grades 7-9: Scott Styslinger, age 14, Birmingham, Ala.
- Grades 10-12: Eunsil Choi, age 17, Lawrenceville, Ga.
Monkey’s Raincoat Prize
(Honoring a short poem in the Japanese haiku tradition)
- Noah Jordan, age 9, Alna, Maine
Shasta Bioregion Prize
(Honoring a student from the San Francisco Bay Area):
- Arianna LaChance, age 12, San Anselmo, Calif.
Anacostia Watershed Prize
(Honoring a student from the Washington, D.C., Area)
- Grace Fitzpatrick, age 13, Washington, D.C.
Teacher of the Year
- Barbara Strasko, Fulton Elementary, Lancaster, Pa.
Grand Prize Winner (K-2)
I hide my secrets in the core of a brick and on the surface of a star.
I tell my secrets to the unseen spirits around me and the light rays from the sun.
Secrets live where man cannot go,
in the farthest part of space and inside a velvet mite.
—Quinn H. Whitlow, age 7
Shasta Bioregion Prize
“Shadow Across the Moon”
shining on the lake
gleaming under the headlights of
the rusty Chevy truck
clamoring down the highway.
The lake ripples.
The rock eroding down the
A wolf steps into the open
giving itself to the shadow across
—Arianna LaChance, age 12
Monkey's Rainbow Prize (Haiku)
I found a person just like me
in the frozen pond.
—Noah Jordan, age 9
About the Contest
Submissions come from around the world, in English, Spanish and American Sign Language (submitted on DVD). The contest is open to any child in the world, ages 5 through 19.
Students may enter on their own or as part of a group. About 100 poems and artworks from national and international students are selected as finalists each year. In addition to the international prize in either art or poetry, eight grand prize winners are chosen from the U.S. entries (four in poetry and four in art, in four age categories), and a special prize is awarded for a haiku poem.
The deadlines for the 2009-2010 contest are Feb. 15, 2010 (U.S), and March 1, 2010 (international). For further details and a complete list of current and past winners and finalists, visit www.riverofwords.org.
Guy Lamolinara is the communications officer for the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress.