First Annual New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate Winners!

We’re proud to announce the winners of the first annual New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate Contest!

The three 2017 New Jersey Youth Poet Laureates are Mel Xiao, a Newark Academy student from Livingston; Eileen Huang, a High Technology High School student from Holmdel; and Nicole Tota, a Cherokee High School student from Marlton. These three winners will represent North, Central, and South Jersey, respectively. Writers Theatre will present them with opportunities to perform and share their work throughout the state and their poems will be published later this year.  Each winner will also receive a Governor’s Award.

With this being the first year of the contest, we didn’t expect anywhere near the over 800 submissions we received, so the judging and awards process took longer than anticipated, but we’ve ironed out the kinks and are adjusting the timing for next year’s contest.  We thank you for your patience during the process.

The Youth Poet Laureate contest was something Writer’s Theatre Artistic Director John Pietrowski had long been wanting to provide for New Jersey youth poets, alongside the other educational writing opportunities the theatre already provides, like the NJ Young Playwrights Festival. Pietrowski: “This project is part of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program, run by Michael Cirelli of Urban Word in New York City. It has an enormous national presence. The winning writers will each have five of their poems printed in the national anthology, compete for a Northeast Region prize that includes an anthology of the winners work, and finally, have the opportunity to become the National Youth Poet Laureate. Additional performance opportunities will be available both in state and regionally.”

Other events

  1. NJ Student Writers Win Big in WTNJ Contests
  2. Thirty-Fourth Annual New Jersey Young Playwrights Festival High School Winners!

Over 165 students submitted 830 poems this year. Each student had to submit a Poem of Place, which literally or metaphorically describes where the poet lives. We asked Kaeley Ipson, a poet from Somerville High School who participated in the contest, how she approached writing her poem of place, “The World Outside My Window.”  She responded, “after hours of scribbling nonsense notes of sheets of paper, an idea emerged in my head. I saw the leaves falling from the tree limbs, lying cracked and calloused on the dry grass. I saw the sun dip below the autumn tree line. I saw how lethargic the tree limbs looked; they hung low in the air as the wind stripped away their leaves. While noticing these things, I realized though I was removed from the environment outside, I still was affected by nature.”

“I decided to write a poem about the sheltered life we, as modern humans, live. Though we shelter ourselves from nature, we are not exempt from the effects of nature. Just as summer must turn into fall, we must age and change as well. After I came up with this idea, the entire poem flowed from there. I wrote enthusiastically the rest of the night, editing, tweaking, re-reading, and repeating.”

Forty-one poems of place from this year’s competition will be collected and published on the Writers Theatre website and combined with a visual component to create a virtual poetic map of the state of New Jersey, which allows readers to find out about the places those poets are from through their poetry. Additionally, “Judge’s Choice” poems will be published online at

This year’s NJ Youth Poet Laureate competition was judged by professional poets and writers that include New Jersey State Council on the Arts Poetry Fellows, Pushcart Prize nominees, and more. The judges were Eloise Bruce, Arthur Wilson, Penny Harter, Meghan Privitello, Joseph Rathgeber, David Keller, Claudia Cortese, Gabor Barabas, Peter Murphy, and Nancy Scott. “All of the judges are well-recognized New Jersey-based professional poets,” said Pietrowski. “Our goal was to bring these writers into the rich community that is New Jersey Poetry.”

Congratulations to the winners and to everyone who wrote and submitted poems to this year’s contest!

Leave a Comment: