Poetry contest

Fighting Words Poetry Contest 2020: Winners and Finalists

The Pulitzer Center congratulates the winners and runners-up of the 2020 Fighting Words Poetry Contest!

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

This year’s competition was judged by Claudia Castro Luna, who writes, “These students’ writing skills are evident in each poem, as is their capacity for abstraction and understanding the complexity of the stories they read. . More than anything, reading these poems, I was left hopeful for our common future. These young people show again and again with their compositions their ability to empathize with others, with people living around the world in circumstances very different from theirs… Toni Morrison in his essay, The Foreigner’s Home, tells us that “We are the moral inhabitants of the globe. To deny this, despite our feeble attempts to respect it, is to lie in prison.” The young writers who wrote these poems testify to our moral responsibility to each other and to the natural world, and remind us that beauty and love will always rise above devastation.”

Contest winners:

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

1st place:

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

Judge’s comments: The writer wrote a poem which, by its very form, translates the atrocities of war, its way of bursting and breaking everything…[The poet] was able to metabolize journalism and not only understand the rational implications of history, but to feel, to sympathize, with the unimaginable loss of children and young people living in refugee camps, to feel their physical pain, to feel the emotional devastation that they endured. Getting this to happen in three short stanzas is no small feat.

2nd place:

Vivien Song’s Aviary*
Grade 11, Amador Valley High School, California

Judge’s comments: As soon as it opens, the poem passes from image to striking image. The metaphors, elegant and effective, set the tone and fiercely convey that the Uyghur people of northwestern China are confronted with a system aimed at their disappearance.

3rd place:

where the water was by SydneyBlu Garcia-Yao
Grade 8, Bala Cynwyd Middle School, Pennsylvania

Judge’s comments: I appreciated the poet’s use of austere, direct and unadorned language… It’s an eloquent and passionate call to harness hope. Not an empty hope, a hope for hope, but a hope that leads to concrete actions, to the actions we must take to save ourselves.


stop by Miriam Alex*
Grade 10, Nashua High School South, NH

A Father’s Nightmare by Victor Xia*
Grade 11, Lakeside School, WA

A Dream Beyond the Sun by Eleni Murphy
Grade 7, St. Peter’s School, Pennsylvania

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

Kylie Lynn Khalil Traffic
Grade 8, Twin Creeks Middle School, TX

double sonnet for education by Emma Miao
Grade 10, West Point Gray Academy, Canada

The Earth Trembles by Deeya Prakash*
Grade 10, Sycamore High School, OH

Home Sweet Home: an oxymoron by Molly Blander*
Grade 6, Village School, MA

Yo Soy Boriquen by Diego A. Cruz Piñero*
Grade 11, Colegio San Antonio de Padua, Puerto Rico

River War by Jessica Kim
Grade 9, La Canada High School, California

Remains of Raqqa by Rena Rooyi Su*
Grade 10, Pacific Academy, Canada

Cracks by Nathaniel Bowman
Grade 11, Lawton High School, OK

Porque Eres una Mujer by Janet Fernandez
Grade 11, Back of the Yards High School, Illinois

Applaud the symphony of Maya Ardon
12th grade, Skyline High School, UT

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

This competition is the result of the Pulitzer Center’s educational programming. In April and May, Education Team staff hosted virtual workshops for more than 800 K-12 students around the world, and teachers guided students in writing independently. Fighting Words asks students to consider how journalism and poetry can be effective responses to current events and to write poems in conversation with underreported news stories. You can view the workshop guide here, stay up to date on educational opportunities and resources by signing up for our weekly education newsletter, and contact to collaborate at education@pulitzercenter.org.

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

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