Press Release

Fifth Annual Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards Celebrates Young Writers Across Illinois

CHICAGO, July 28, 2021 – Illinois Humanities, in partnership with Poetry Foundation, Brooks Permissions, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, is proud to announce the winners of the 2021 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards, an annual competition open to all Illinois poets in grades K–12. The 26 winners and 16 honorable mentions were chosen from over 365 submissions representing 75 schools from across the state.

The winning poets will be celebrated in a live virtual ceremony on Saturday, August 21st at 2:00 PM, hosted by Emily Hooper Lansana, director of community arts at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, and featuring Nora Brooks Blakely, Ms. Brooks’s daughter and president of Brooks Permissions, and Illinois Poet Laureate Angela Jackson. Award winners will recite their poems as part of the virtual ceremony.

“The young people who submitted poems this year are powerful observers, documenters, and interrogators of their lives and the worlds they engage with,” said Gabrielle Lyon, executive director of Illinois Humanities. “These poems – submitted from every corner of the state – are part of an annual tradition that, each year, powerfully reminds us, that poetry can help us find our shared humanity.”

Gwendolyn Brooks began the Youth Poetry Awards in 1969 during her tenure as Illinois Poet Laureate and continued to administer the awards until her passing in 2000. The original youth poetry awards were born out of Ms. Brooks’ belief that a poet laureate, “should do more than wear a crown – [she] should be of service to the young.”

In 2017, in honor of the centennial of Ms. Brooks’s birth, Illinois Humanities joined with the Poetry Foundation, Brooks Permissions, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts to revive the awards to honor the tremendous legacy of Gwendolyn Brooks, the first Black author to win a Pulitzer Prize, and celebrate and amplify the words and experiences of young poets from across Illinois. In the five years since the revival of the awards, nearly 1500 poems have been submitted from young poets all across the state.

“It is a testament to the power of poetry in young people’s lives that the Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards received so many exceptional submissions this year—more than any other year!” said Michelle T. Boone, president of the Poetry Foundation. “We are so grateful to these young poets for sharing their work with all of us, and to the educators and mentors who encourage them to bring more poetry into the world.”

The Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Awards competition runs annually from October through May and is open to young Illinoisans in grades K–12. This year’s winners will receive a monetary prize provided by Illinois Humanities as well as book bundles that include:

  • a copy of The Essential Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Elizabeth Alexander and provided by Library of America;
  • a copy of Exquisite: The Poetry and Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade and Cozbi A. Cabrera, provided by Abrams Books;
  • a copy of Seasons: A Gwendolyn Brooks Experience, edited by Nora Brooks Blakely and Cynthia Walls, and provided by Poetry Foundation.

The 2021 Gwendolyn Brooks Youth Poetry Award Winners are:

“I like to play with my brother” by Michael Wiley, Chicago
“My Favorite Tree” by Lucy Orr, Berwyn
Honorable Mention: “A Talking Clock” by Grant Hodges, Oak Park

First Grade
“Yesterday I saw a neighbor” by Finn McGuire, Berwyn
“The Creature” by Madeline Hyde, Northfield
Honorable Mention: “Dragons have different powers” by Harlan Cox, Chicago

Second Grade:
“My Home” by Mattalyn Sears, Peoria
“Poems” by Emma Balcirak, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “First Day of School” by Laura Heironymus, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Playing is Fun” by Martynas Vrubliauskas, Chicago

Third Grade:
“Dear Piece of Paper” by Max Steinhandler, Evanston
“Shortcut” by Elise Brand, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Nature” by Amelia Richards, Berwyn
Honorable Mention: “Cookies” by Leo Quest, Berwyn

Fourth Grade:
“Far, far away” by Zeus Zimm Lyon, Berwyn
“When Night Comes By” by Evangeline Hwangbo, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “2020” by Leonardo Rivera, Clarendon Hills

Fifth Grade:
“Breathe” by Sadie Haupt, Winnetka
“The Moonlight’s Shadow” by Megan Pham, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “Masks of Joy” by Lorenzo Cavour, Skokie
Honorable Mention: “Feelings are Blue in a Pandemic” by Jack Murphy, Downers Grove

Sixth Grade:
“Why am I the Enemy?” by Maya Cionca, Skokie
“Nature’s Windchime” – Kira Dolph, Libertyville

Seventh Grade:
“Motherhood and lipstick” – Belen Salamanca, Chicago
“On the Absence of Wind” – Maddy Lehman, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “I am From” by Liana Smith, Oak Park
Honorable Mention: “Humanity” by August Wittenstein, Skokie

Eighth Grade:
“cross stitch” by Amelia Gottschalk, Skokie
“Ode to Summer” by Avery Kennedy, Colona
Honorable Mention: “Nature” by Kamden Ariano, Geneseo

Ninth Grade:
“Emmet Wore His Father’s Ring” by Brooks Lansana, Chicago
“neverland: memory; clay entering kiln” by Seunghui Lily Ha, Naperville
Honorable Mention: “Unknown Destination” by Seriphyna Zigler, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “Something you didn’t know you still wanted” by Eleanor Ross, Chicago

Tenth Grade:
“New Perspectives” by Mackenzie Burgess, Joliet
“girlhood after the storm” by Annie Wu, Chicago

Eleventh Grade:
“It Doesn’t End Until You Do” by Liyala Wesonga, Chicago
“I’m smiling under my mask” by Liliana Green, Chicago
Honorable Mention: “A Letter to my son” by Ala’a Tamam, Springfield
Honorable Mention: “Miss me unconditionally” by Jaydra Hamid, Chicago

Twelfth Grade:
“Stretch” by Charlotte McManus, Homewood
“How to Make Spring Rolls” by Cindy Ha, Carol Stream




About Illinois Humanities
Illinois Humanities, the Illinois affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a statewide nonprofit organization that activates the humanities through free public programs, grants, and educational opportunities that foster reflection, spark conversation, build community, and strengthen civic engagement. We provide free, high-quality humanities experiences throughout Illinois, particularly for communities of color, individuals living on low incomes, counties and towns in rural areas, small arts and cultural organizations, and communities highly impacted by mass incarceration. Founded in 1974, Illinois Humanities is supported by state, federal, and private funds. Learn more at and on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn @ILHumanities.

Poetry Foundation LogoAbout the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in American culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative literary prizes and programs.

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