By GUY LAMOLINARA
“Our program involves studying the place where you live.” So said Pamela Michael, co-founder of the River of Words Foundation, during the 15th annual awards ceremony held at the Library of Congress on June 30. Designed to promote literacy, the arts and environmental awareness, the River of Words contest is the largest youth poetry and art competition in the world.
Former Poet Laureate Robert Hass joined Michael at the lectern for the event that brought children, their parents and teachers from across the nation to Washington for a celebration of the environment and the creativity it inspires.
“There is a lot of wisdom from older people, but there is another kind of wisdom that young people have, and it is very important to honor that as well,” Michael said.
John Y. Cole, director of the Center for the Book, which has co-sponsored River of Words since its founding, opened the program by polling the audience and learning that more than half of them had never been to the Library of Congress. So, being the institution’s historian, he told them how they were in the world’s largest library and that Thomas Jefferson’s universal library was the basis for today’s universal collections of the Library of Congress.
“You kids are someday going to be responsible for this beautiful land we live in,” said Hass. “ We thought that if you wrote about and made art about the places where you live… that it would create some of the groundwork for a feel for the land … to have a sense of stewardship for it.
“What we didn’t expect was how amazing the work would be. … The reason we are here is to honor your amazing creativity.”
The remainder of the program included reading of the poems by their writers and a brief conversation with Hass on the meaning of their work. The former Poet Laureate also discussed the work of the artists, demonstrating, as he did with the poetry, an equal appreciation for the quality of the winners’ work. In the end, he asked all the students to stand and be acknowledged by the audience.
Grand Prize Winner (K-2)
A round moon rises
in the dark sky.
The white bunny
with brown ears
through the cold snow
for his covered burrow.
Seven yellow stars
lead him home.
Zak Bhe, age 7
Grand Prize Winner (Gr. 3-6)
Before my granddad died
he told me about heaven and why it existed
He said the night sky was a huge black blanket
that every soul could peek through and watch over us
He believed the stars were smiling faces of those passed
who watched me, everyday
My grandad said he would be one of those passed
And would watch over the world he loved
I have looked at the stars in the sky
Trying to find that new smiling face so
I can smile back
DiAnna Rowe, age 11
2010 River of Words Prize Winners
International Grand Prize (Art)
- Tsang Wang Fung, age 19, Hong Kong, China
National Poetry Grand Prizes
- K-Grade 2: Zak Bhe, age 7, Edgecomb, Maine
- Grades 3-6: DiAnna Rowe, age 11, Greeley, Colo.
- Grades 7-9: Julia Christensen, age 13, Seattle, Wash.
- Grades 10-12: Caroline Dean, age 17, Scarsdale, N.Y.
National Art Grand Prizes
- K-Grade 2: Alice Yu, age 7, Suwanee, Ga.
- Grades 3-6: Kevin Huo, age 10, Foster City, Calif.
- Grades 7-9: Jacqueline Bae, age 14, Oak Hill, Va.
- Grades 10-12: Jhee-Young (Stella) Shin, age 17, Bothell, Wash.
Monkey’s Raincoat Prize
(Honoring a short poem in the Japanese haiku tradition)
- Abe Hoffman, age 8, Denver, Colo.
Shasta Bioregion Prize
(Honoring a student from the
San Francisco Bay Area)
- Patrick Campbell, age 17, San Jose, Calif.
Teacher of the Year
- Nancie Atwell, Center for Teaching and Learning, Edgecomb, Maine.
For the complete list of 2010 winners and to read and view their prize-winning entries, visit www.riverofwords.org.
Guy Lamolinara is the communications officer for the Center for the Book.