Posted in news

2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging) Winner Selected

KBrace2Kristin Brace, winner of the 2018 Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize (Emerging).

Congratulations are in order for Kristin Brace, the latest winner of the Wheelbarrow Books Poetry Prize.

Brace’s collection, Toward the Wild Abundance, was selected by judge Sarah Bagby. “Toward the Wild Abundance conjures emotions initiated by the frailty and wonder of our lives,” Bagby writes. “The multifaceted nature of this work demands that it be read for voice and validation.  A second reading reveals a deeper commentary on the nature and value of art and the artist. These kaleidoscopic poems also shine brilliance on themes of memory and the passage of time.  They fluidly transport us from past to present and into the imagination to pose questions about how our experiences inform identity and meaning.”

Kristin Brace writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature. She is the author of the poetry chapbooks Fence, Patio, Blessed Virgin and Each Darkness Inside (Finishing Line Press, 2018). Brace earned an MFA in Writing from Spalding University and her work has appeared in journals such as Fiction Southeast, The Louisville Review, Water~Stone, The Chariton Review, and The Other Journal. She serves as executive director of the Grand Rapids Creative Youth Center, where kids become published authors. Brace plays the accordion, studies Italian, and loves Lake Michigan in every season. She makes her home in West Michigan with her husband, the entrepreneur and inventor Neal Brace. She can be found online at

Finalists for this round are Emily Calhoun for Under Long Rains, Ann Miller for The Direction of Flight, Jacob Oet for Inside Ball Lightning, and Heidi Seaborn for Cleave.

In addition to publication in late 2019 by the MSU Press, Brace has been awarded a prize for $1,000. She joins previous winners Cortney Davis (2016), William Orem (2017), and Gary Fincke (2017).

Wheelbarrow Books is an imprint of the RCAH Center for Poetry at Michigan State University, with distribution by MSU Press. It awards two prizes annually, each to an established and an emerging poet. For more information, guidelines, and to learn more about previous selections, visit


Posted in Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition

Benvenuto winners visit Center for Poetry

By Kelsey Block

From left to right: 1st place winner Jackson Graham, Honorable Mention winner Jack Evans, Honorable Mention winner Mitch VanAcker, 2nd place winner Nazifa Chowdhury, 3rd place winner Paulina Adams, and Center for Poetry Director Anita Skeen.
From left to right: 1st place winner Jackson Graham, Honorable Mention winner Jack Evans, Honorable Mention winner Mitch VanAcker, 2nd place winner Nazifa Chowdhury, 3rd place winner Paulina Adams, and Center for Poetry Director Anita Skeen.

On Wednesday, November 19, six Michigan high school students were recognized as winners of the Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition. The announcement was celebrated in conjunction with a reading by the last guest of the Fall 2014 Writing Series, Jim Minick.

The winners of the Benvenuto Competition are: Jackson Graham, first place, of Detroit Catholic Central; Nazifa Chowdhury, second place, of Detroit International Academy for Young Women; Paulina Adams, third place, of Harbor Springs High School; Jack Evans, honorable mention, of Detroit Catholic Central; Ellen Zhang, honorable mention, of Troy High School; and Mitch VanAcker, honorable mention, of Detroit Catholic Central.

The poetry prize was established in 2008 in honor of late MSU Professor Richard Benvenuto. His wife, Joyce Benvenuto, said students should be recognized for their art.

“I think the poetry has been really good. I’ve really been proud to hear (the students) read,” Joyce Benvenuto said.  “(The Center for Poetry) brings in a major author and he’s there sitting along with the kids and these kids are shining. They’re really showing that poetry is alive and well.”

The prize grew out of a collaboration between mid-Michigan writers and teachers Joyce Benvenuto and Linda Cheeseman. The pair originally established a spring poetry prize for Lansing area students. As the project grew, it attracted the attention of Barry Gross, a retired MSU English professor and former colleague of Richard Benvenuto. Gross offered up additional funding, and the pair decided to partner with the Center for Poetry to create another competition for students around the state.

Nazifa Chowdhury, 16, said she didn’t expect to win, let alone earn second place. Chowdhury has been writing poetry since she was in the sixth grade. Since then, she’s been in summer programs and performed her poetry around the state. Chowdhury’s poem, titled “Rivulets & Guilt” was about her grandfather.

Chowdhury said the hardest part about writing her poem was admitting that she was one of the people who had overlooked her grandfather’s wisdom.

“It was admitting to what I feel like I did wrong,” she said.

Mitch VanAcker said he first heard the news from classmates.

“Everybody started coming up to me saying my poem was good,” VanAcker said. Later, he found out his teacher had announced it in class. “It feels good to be recognized and it makes me want to continue,” he said.

Jack Evans said the competition gave him a sense of validation and inspired him to work harder.

“I was really excited,” he said, adding that he’s been involved in poetry at school and through Poetry Out Loud. “As soon as I got the email, I forwarded it to my teacher with ‘HELL YEAH’ in the subject line in all caps.”

Posted in education, news, visiting writers, workshops

The Winners of Our 5th Annual High School Poetry Competition

Congratulations to Jessi Bowser (1st Place), Jenna Wang (2nd Place), and Katie Peterson (3rd Place) for winning our 2013 High School Poetry Competition! We had over 250 poems submitted from high schoolers across Michigan, and the winners will read their selections on November 13 at 7 pm in the RCAH Theater in conjunction with a poetry reading by visiting poet Barbara Presnell.

1st Place: Jessi Bowser
High School: West Bloomfield High School
Year in School: Junior
Sponsoring Teacher: Jennifer McQuillian


when i was 11 i wore basketball shorts and a wife beater every day.
to my friends it was funny, to adults it was cute
i was just confused on what little girls should wear

im 17 now and i no longer dress like a little boy
but i still do not dress like my friends.
i despise ruffles and i refuse dresses
and they do not laugh anymore, adults no longer think it is cute

there is a stigma in this society that women are fragile
we are taught this from a young age; girls are petite
and girls are thin and they are soft, and they are not made to withstand hard times

i wonder if society has realized that we are not what we eat
we are what we wear

we are the ruffled shirts that easily rip, we are frequently stained white skirts
and we are the heels that were never made to be run in

you wore your heels the night he chased what was designed to be caught
and you ripped with the shirt he tore off you, a shirt manufactured to be torn
and your soul is still stained by the bruises that he left the night he decided that you were his to take,
constricted in the compression top you wore instead of a wife beater
a minnow trapped in the fishnets that you wore for him

so i wear jeans and they are so tight that i have to cut them off at the end of each day
and i wear tshirts that go up to my neck, and i do not wear clothes that tear
and i do not wear shoes i cannot run in, and i do not let myself get caught in a net of expectations
and i do not consider myself delicate, or fragile, or feminine

i am the same girl who is afraid of dressing like one

Second Place: Jenna Wang
High School: International Academy Central
Year In School: Junior
Sponsoring Teacher: Kayla McCabe

Missing In Action

In sixth grade my grammar teacher told me
a comma indicates a temporary pause between two sentences.
I drew a small round dot in my notebook
and said nothing when she said my name

In fifth grade my art teacher said
shadows must be painted with overtones of purple
deepest plum, frostbitten lilac,
because that way you can see the darkness is multidimensional

I watched you bend over the sink
under the harsh tungsten light of the bathroom,
a hand cupped around your nose
while gleaming red rivulets ran between your raw knuckles.
You said nothing when I screamed your name

In fourth grade my history teacher told me
many brave men were killed in the Great War.
Some of them had even left home to fight
long before they walked out of the front door

The worn photograph of a soldier
still lays on your desk where you left it three years ago
I see you in it now, limping from snowbank to snowbank,
only temporarily late between two jobs
one foot a smear of purple on this world
and the other already in the next.

Third Place: Katie Peterson
School: Brighton High School
Year in School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Kelly Armstrong


It is sometimes surprising,
The value of childhood keepsakes.
I carefully slide the drawstring bag open
And tip its contents onto my hand.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
It is worn and faded and smells the way warm sweaters smell.

Out tumble the jacks,
Bright pointed plastic things
Clacking against one another.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
I never knew how to play jacks,
I would just stare and finger the starry trinkets in my hand.

I sprawl across
The warmed pink carpeting,
Soaked by the afternoon sun.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
My brother laughs,
We delicately arrange the piked figures as they scatter across the floor.

Now the bag is crumpled,
The velvet worn, the threads frayed.
But sometimes I slide the drawstring open
One jack, five jacks, ten!
I peer into its depths
And smell warm sweaters and sun-splashed carpets and think of home.