Announcing the 2021 Pulitzer Center Poetry Contest!
How can poetry be an effective response to current events and under-reported stories? How can we use poetry to connect global issues to our local and personal contexts? Students are invited to explore these questions and make their voices heard in their entries to the Fighting Words Poetry Contest.
- 1st place: $100, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- 2nd place: $50, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- 3rd place: $25, publication on the Pulitzer Center website
- Finalists: Publication on the Pulitzer Center website
Eligibility: Any current K-12 student in the United States or internationally may enter. Students may write in any language, and are welcome to submit multilingual poems. Judges will have reading fluency in English and Spanish.
Deadline: Saturday, May 15, 2021 11:59 PM EDT
Submission guidelines: Go to the Pulitzer Center website and select a story (see workshop guide below for suggestions). Write a poem of any form and length that includes lines from the story. Use "With lines from "STORY TITLE" by JOURNALIST NAME, a Pulitzer Center reporting project" as your epigraph.
Submit your poems using this Google Form. The form will ask for some basic information, and you will upload your poem to the form as an attachment. You may also upload an audio or video file of yourself performing your poem; this file is optional, but the text file is required.
If you have questions about these guidelines or if the Google Form is not accessible to you, please email email@example.com.
Judging criteria: Poems will be judged by the following criteria:
- Success of the poem on its own terms (craft, linguistic style, emotion, etc.)
- Successful inclusion of lines quoted from a Pulitzer Center story
Schedule a Workshop to Prepare: Educators who would like to prepare their students to craft poems for this contest can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a virtual workshop for their students facilitated by a Pulitzer Center education team member. Alternatively, educators may use the workshop guide included on this page (see "Workshop Guide" tab) to facilitate a workshop independently.
In this workshop, students will examine the intersections of poetry and journalism. They will have the opportunity to explore under-reported news stories, analyze poems that respond to those stories, and write their own poems using a pressing story that speaks to them.
Poems produced in this workshop can be entered into the Fighting Words Poetry Contest for the chance to win cash prizes and publication.
Want to schedule a free workshop for your class, facilitated by a member of the Pulitzer Center education team? Email email@example.com to schedule.
Printable Workshop Resources
These downloadable lessons include student instructions and fillable worksheets, which students can explore in class or independently.
Students will be able to…
- explain the connection between journalism and poetry
- analyze the connection between a poem and the news story by which it was inspired
- make a personal/local connection to a Pulitzer Center news story
- write a poem that includes lines from a news story
- What is an under-reported story?
- What under-reported stories are you aware of in other parts of the world right now?
- What under-reported stories are present in your community?
- How can you make people aware of the under-reported stories that matter to you?
- How can journalism be an effective way to spread awareness?
- How can art be an effective way to spread awareness? What can poetry contribute, specifically?
- How would you compare the job of a journalist and the job of a poet?
- How would you compare journalism and poetry?
Exploring a Model Poem
1. Watch 0:00-5:05 of the New York Times documentary "Inside a Suicide Prevention Center in Puerto Rico." While you watch, consider: What makes this an under-reported story? Why should we care about it?
2. Read and listen to the audio (1:55) of "Permission" by Noel Quiñones. While you listen, underline any lines you hear that you heard word-for-word in the documentary.
3. Discuss the poem:
- What lines jump out at you as important, interesting, beautiful?
- What is the subject of this poem? What under-reported stories can you identify?
- In what ways is the poem similar to the documentary? In what ways is it different?
- How does the speaker of the poem express personal connection to the subject matter?
- Why do you think Quiñones chose to construct this poem as a pantoum? (Why do you think he chose to repeat some lines from the poem in a pattern?)
- What do you think "119 syllables" refer to?
4. Read Quiñones's commentary on the poem:
"In the aftermath of Hurricane María, Puerto Rico has been struggling to rebuild and been denied federal grants to do so. While reporters and news stations have focused on people's access to food, water, and electricity we are seeing a new crisis develop. The New York Times published a mini documentary entitled 'Inside a Suicide Prevention Center in Puerto Rico' at the beginning of January highlighting the mental health crisis now taking hold. As a third generation Puerto Rican, I have never been able to shake the pain of being from a place that is not quite a country and not quite a state. We have always lived in a precarious identity and while many state Hurricane María as the beginning of our traumas, we have suffered since America's invasion 119 years ago."
- Revisit: What does "119 syllables" refer to? How is this related to the content of the rest of the poem?
- Does Quiñones's commentary change your perspective on the poem in any way? What about your perspective on how poetry can respond to under-reported stories?
Exploring More Model Poems by Past Student Contest Winners
1. Look through the Fighting Words poetry contest winners and finalists from 2020, 2019, and 2018. All of these poems were written by students in grades K-12. Choose two poems and read them in full, then skim the news stories the poets wrote in response to.
2. Respond to the following questions, using evidence from the poems you chose to read:
- What lines jump out at you as important, interesting, and/or beautiful?
- What is the subject of this poem? What under-reported stories can you identify?
- What poetic devices can you identify in the poem? (Metaphor? Repetition? Alliteration?) Choose one and explain how it contributes to the poem.
Exploring Your Story
Now you will have the chance to choose an under-reported story that speaks to you.
1. Take a few minutes to explore the headlines/images/article summaries for the articles listed below. Select the one that most interests you.
2. In the next 15 minutes, read the corresponding article. While you read, highlight phrases that jump out at you as important, interesting, or beautiful. These should be phrases that capture the feeling of the story. They will form a word bank you can draw on when you begin writing your poem.
3. Find a conversation partner with a different article and discuss, or reflect on your own:
- What is your story about?
- What local and/or personal connection can you make?
- What is one phrase that you highlighted, and why?
Writing Your Poem
1. [Optional] Take 5-10 minutes to create a cento from the lines you highlighted and other language in your article. A cento is a poem comprised entirely of quotes from other texts. (Find example centos here.)
2. Take 15-30 minutes to write a poem that includes lines from your article and your own original writing.
1. Share your poem with the class and receive your peers' feedback. See if they can guess what your story was about.
2. Here are some suggestions for how to give good feedback to your peers:
- Mention lines or words you thought were especially powerful or beautiful.
- When you say that you "liked" or "didn't like" different aspects of the poem, say why.
- If you don't like a word or phrase someone chose, try asking why they chose it. Maybe they have a good reason.
- Keep in mind: Is this poem respectful of the people it discusses, if relevant? If so, how? If not, how could the poet address that problem?
Example Community Agreements for Writing and Sharing Poetry in Workshop
Writing, especially writing poetry, can be a very personal experience. As a result, it is important to create a space in which students feel free and supported in expressing themselves. Before beginning the workshop, consider collaboratively creating and agreeing on a set of community agreements. A basic sample set follows:
- During reading and discussion time, I will be an active participant. I will listen to my peers and to my teacher with the understanding that they will do the same for me.
- During writing time, I will respect silence and my peers’ concentration.
- During sharing time, I will listen to and be supportive of my peers.
- During feedback time, I will share at least one positive comment before making suggestions for improvement. When making suggestions, I will state them not as things my peers did poorly, but as things they could do better.
- After this workshop, I will not share anything that my peers have said or written with anyone outside the workshop unless I have gotten the consent of the person who said/wrote what I would like to share.
Students should additionally be introduced to good ways of expressing support for their classmates while they share their poems without interrupting concentration, such as snapping their fingers.
Students may write in response to any news story on the Pulitzer Center website. Here are a few suggested news stories to get you started!
Stories for Grades 3 and up
- In Isolation, Abby Dreams of Space [Video, illustrations]
- Afropunk Brings the Black Lives Matter Ethos Abroad [Photo, text]
- Florida Farmers Tell of Overcoming Pandemic Obstacles in 2020 [Text]
- Lily's Story: My Day in the Pandemic [Illustrations, text]
- Down from the Mountains: Millions of Chinese Kids Are Parenting Themselves [Video]
- How Will History Museums Remember This Moment? [Text]
- Taking Care of Each Other: Madison Communities Respond to Food Insecurity in the Age of COVID [Text]
Stories for Grades 6 and up
- Performing to an Empty Times Square: New York's Costumed Performers [Photo, text]
- The People's Newspaper: How The Navajo Times Is Covering COVID-19 in the Most Under-Connected Part of the U.S. [Video, text]
- Humanity: The Protest Photos You Don't See [Photo, text]
- 'Even If You Are Missing a Foot, Missing a Hand, You Must Live,' Says Haiti Quake Survivor [Text]
- LGBTQ Migrants in Europe: Forming Communities [Photo, text]
- COVID-19 Kills Twice as Many in Mississippi’s Poorest Counties—Areas Where Slavery Was Concentrated [Text]
- Ballet and Bullets: Dancing out of the Favelas [Video]
- Afro-Puerto Rican Identity Explored in ‘Afro-Latinx Revolution: Puerto Rico’ Documentary [Video]
- How Stigma Makes It Harder to Fight Epidemics [Text]
- Meet some of the millions of women who migrated recently, risking everything [Photo, text]
- The Historical Invisibility of Quilombolas During the COVID-19 Pandemic [Text]
- ‘We Can’t Be Selective on What Black Lives Matter and What Black Lives Don’t,' Says Philly Race and Gender Activist [Text]
- The bold plan to save Africa's largest forest [Text]
- Philippine Fishermen Stranded at Sea by Pandemic: ‘We Think About Jumping Overboard’ [Text]
Stories for Grades 9 and up
- Memory and Trauma: Hong Kong's Exiled Protestors [Photo, text]
- Undocumented in the Pandemic: 'Nowhere Else to Go' [Video]
- Unbroken Courage: Examining the Remediation of Cambodia's 'Mental Health Crisis' [Video, photo, text]
- Criminalizing Mental Illness: Part 1, the problem and Part 2, some solutions [Audio]
- Lost and Found: The Story of Land-Grant Universities [Text]
- ‘Here They’re Safe’: The Girls Club That Emerged When Kenya’s Schools Closed [Photo, text] *Content warning: Sexual violence
- 'SHOT' - Police Shootings [Text, video recording of theater] *Content warning: Anti-Black violence
- Coming to America: It's Not Like the Movie [Text]
- Racial Tensions in America's 'Sundown Towns' [Video, photo, text]
- Misgendering, Sexual Violence, Harassment: What it Is to Be a Transgender Person in an Indian Prison [Text] *Content warning: Sexual violence
- Valley of Unrest: Kashmir Under Siege [Text]
- Prying Eyes: Police Use of AI and Facial Recognition in Minority Communities [Text]
- Disappearing Daughters: Femicide in Mexico [Photo, video, text]