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Pulitzer Center Update June 24, 2020

Fighting Words Poetry Contest 2020: Winners and Finalists

Image by Jordan Roth. United States, 2016.

Students are invited to enter poems written in response to news stories to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest. This workshop guides teachers and students in how to craft a successful entry.

March 15, 2022
Announcing the 2020 winners of the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.
Announcing the 2020 winners of the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.

The Pulitzer Center congratulates the 2020 Fighting Words Poetry Contest winners and finalists!

These eighteen exceptional poets, whose work and bios appear below, were selected from among some 1,000 entrants from seven countries, 29 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Washington, D.C.

This year's contest was judged by Claudia Castro Luna, who writes: "These students' writing skills are evident in every poem, as is their ability for abstraction, and for understanding the complexity of the stories they read. More than anything reading these poems I was left hopeful for our shared future. These young people show again and again with their compositions their ability to empathize with others, with people living across the globe in vastly different circumstances from their own...Toni Morrison in her essay, The Foreigner's Home, tells us that, 'We are the moral inhabitants of the globe. To deny this, regardless of our feeble attempts to live up to it, is to lie in prison.' The young writers who penned these poems attest to our moral responsibility to each other and to the natural world, and remind us, that beauty and love will always rise above the devastation."

Contest Winners:

(* = poem is accompanied by an audio or video recording)

1st Place:

we were fragments by Dana Blatte*
10th grade, Sharon High School, MA

Judge's comments: The writer has written a poem which through its very form conveys the atrocities of war, the way it splinters and shatters everything...[The poet] was able to metabolize the journalism and not only understand the rational implications of the story, but feel, empathize, with the unimaginable loss of children and youth living in refugee camps, to feel their physical pain, to feel the emotional devastation they have endured. To make this happen in three short stanzas is no easy feat.

2nd Place:

Aviary by Vivien Song*
11th grade, Amador Valley High School, CA

Judge's comments: From its opening, the poem moves from image to arresting image. The metaphors, elegant and effective, set the tone, and fiercely convey that the Uigher people of Northwest China are up against a system intent on their demise.

3rd Place:

where water used to be by SydneyBlu Garcia-Yao
8th grade, Bala Cynwyd Middle School, PA

Judge's comments: I appreciated the poet's use of stark, direct, unadorned language...This is an eloquent, impassioned call to harness hope. Not an empty hope, a hope for hope's sake, but a hope that leads to concrete action, to the actions we need to take in order to save ourselves.


standstill by Miriam Alex*
10th grade, Nashua High School South, NH

A Father's Nightmare by Victor Xia*
11th grade, Lakeside School, WA

A dream beyond the sun by Eleni Murphy
7th grade, St. Peter's School, PA

Women as Water by Iris Yu*
10th grade, Solon High School, OH

Trafficked by Kylie Lynn Khalil
8th grade, Twin Creeks Middle School, TX

double sonnet for education by Emma Miao
10th grade, West Point Grey Academy, Canada

The Earth Shakes by Deeya Prakash*
10th grade, Sycamore High School, OH

Home Sweet Home: An Oxymoron by Molly Blander*
6th grade, Village School, MA

Yo Soy Boriquén by Diego A. Cruz Piñero*
11th grade, Colegio San Antonio de Padua, Puerto Rico

River War by Jessica Kim
9th grade, La Canada High School, CA

Remnants of Raqqa by Rena Rooyi Su*
10th grade, Pacific Academy, Canada

Cracks by Nathaniel Bowman
11th grade, Lawton High School, OK

Porque Eres una Mujer by Janet Fernandez
11th grade, Back of the Yards High School, IL

Applauding the Symphony by Maya Ardon
12th grade, Skyline High School, UT

A Wound Unhealed by Time by Nikita Bhardwaj
11th grade, Princeton Day School, NJ

This contest is the result of Pulitzer Center education programming. In April and May, education team staff led virtual workshops for over 800 K-12 students around the world, and teachers have guided student writing independently. Fighting Words asks students to consider how journalism and poetry can be effective responses to current events and write poems in conversation with under-reported news stories. You can view the workshop guide here, stay up to date on education opportunities and resources by signing up for our weekly education newsletter, and reach out to collaborate at [email protected].

Entries were judged based on the success of the poem on its own terms (craft, linguistic style, emotion, etc.) and successful inclusion of lines quoted from a Pulitzer Center story. All student information except grade was removed from the poems before being presented to the judges.

In addition to Claudia Castro Luna, thank you to our semifinal and final round judges: Kirk Henderson, Leilani Rania Ganser, Manan Bhavnani, Ethan Ehrenhaft, Kayla Edwards, Pauline Werner, Mark Schulte, Fareed Mostoufi, and Hannah Berk.