Nikki Giovanni, world-renowned poet and University Distinguished Professor of English at Virginia Tech, recently announced the winners of the 2015 Steger Poetry Prize for undergraduates. Befitting of poetry month, faculty, staff, and students shared poetry at an April reading that also celebrated the 10th anniversary of the award.

The prizes were established in 2005 and funded by Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech's president at the time. Steger, now president emeritus, participates in the event every year where the top 10 poems are read. At the beginning of this year’s event, Giovanni announced that the purse ranks as the most generous in the nation for undergraduate poetry competitions and was only bested in the world by a prize at the University of Oxford in England.

By the end of the reading, Steger had slipped Giovanni a note that said the winner would receive $1,100 so that Virginia Tech could be the world leader. The recipient of that amount for the winning poem was Gretchen Goeke Dee, from Manassas, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in wildlife conservation in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, with her poem titled, "Whole."

The second-place $500 prize was awarded to Alexandra Hill, from Falls Church, Virginia, a junior double majoring in creative writing and political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for "How to Tell Your Dad.”

Michelle Wright, from Norfolk, Virginia, a freshman wildlife conservation major, won the $300 third-place prize for "Spoken Word: To Be Woman."

More than 85 entries were received for the competition. The following students earned honorable mention status:

  • Emily Blair, from Fort Chiswell, Virginia, a senior majoring in English (creative writing and literature and language) in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for "For the Boy in the Cowboy Hat (With Thanks to Gordon Parks)."  Blair has won the third-place prize the last two years.
  • Lane Clarke, from Richmond, Virginia, a senior English (literature and language) major, for "Olive Skin";
  • Michaela Goldammer, from Blacksburg, a freshman majoring in electrical engineering in the College of Engineering for "Midnight Ghazal";
  • Dale Hiles, from Richmond, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, for "The Golden Touch";
  • Sarah McCliment, from Philipsburg, Pennsylvania, a freshman double majoring in creative writing/literature and language, for "Wopsononock Pond";
  • Nneoma Nwankwo, from Lagos, Nigeria, a junior double major in political science in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences and public and urban affairs in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and former top-10 finalist, for "Perfect White Boy"; and
  • Smrithi Srikanthan, from Herndon, Virginia, a freshman chemical engineering major, for "After the Death of the Universe.”

The evening concluded with a reading entitled “Three Hours with Nikki Giovanni,” which was written by junior creative writing major Aimee Hahn, from Chesterfield, Virginia. The reading was a salute to Giovanni sayings in the classroom. 

The competition was administered by Giovanni and judged by a committee of faculty members. In addition to the monetary award, a small statue made by local jeweler Faith Capone was presented to the winner. Members of The Steger Committee include Fred D’Aguiar, Elisabeth Bloomer, Jean Elliott. Ennis McCrery, Aileen Murphy, Joe Scallorns, Matthew Vollmer, and Gyorgyi Voros.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.