NOTE: Winners have been selected and will be announced on April 10!

The New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate AwardWhat It IsWhat They WinWho Can EnterDeadlines and TimelinesPrepare the SubmissionThe Mind Your Elders PoemWho Will Be ReadingSubmission FormContacts
NJ Youth Poet Laureate logo
The Second Annual New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate Contest opens submissions on May 15, 2017

The New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate Program looks for works of poetry, rap, and spoken word from New Jersey students, grades 9-12. A panel of New Jersey poets chooses one writer each from North, Central and South Jersey to represent their region.

Applicants submit five original poems/raps/performances composed by the applicant, one of which must be a poem that addresses the theme of “Mind Your Elders.” All submissions are sent through an online form. In order to be considered for the Poet Laureate Awards you must submit five poems. You may submit less than five for consideration for the “Judges’ Choice” and “Mind Your Elders” award.

  • Submissions Close     December 1, 2017  11:59 pm

The New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate Program is part of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program.

The three Laureates receive the following

  • Inclusion of five poems in the National Youth Poet Laureate Program Northeast Region Anthology
  • Entry into the National Regional Contest, the winner of which receives a “book deal,” an anthology of their work.
  • Consideration for the National Youth Poet Laureate Award
  • A New Jersey Governor’s Award
  • A special performance of the New Jersey Youth Poet Laureate winners.
  • Additional opportunities to perform throughout the year as ambassadors of the NJ Youth Poet Laureate Program.
Additional Awards

A special category is announced each year. At least 25 poems will be selected for an online anthology.

The highest scoring individual poems will be presented in Judge’s Choice, an online anthology.

All current New Jersey residents, grades 9-12 (or the equivalent) in the current school year. The contest is open to students in public, private, and religious schools,  as well as home-schooled students, and students in other non-traditional learning environments.

Entries are accepted only at the Writers Theatre of New Jersey Website (see Submission Form tab on this page).

  • In order to be considered for the Poet Laureate Awards, writers must submit five poems. You may submit less than five poems for the other awards.
  • One poem must be a poem that deals with the theme of  “Mind Your Elders.”
  • Remember to proof your poems, and that your name is on every poem. If the poem is longer than one page, please paginate.
  • Poems should be submitted with 1″ margins, 12pt Times New Roman font.
  • For written work, we prefer the files be in a .doc, .docx, or .rtf file format.  We will accept .pdf format.
  • Important. Please format the file names of your poems/uploads as follows (No punctuation, please):

Last Name First Name Poem Title

So if Elizabeth Browning were submitting A Child Asleep, the file would look like this:

Browning Elizabeth A Child Asleep.doc

This will make it easier for us to find and keep your poems together.

Along with basic information on you and where you go to school, we will be asking additional information. Having it available will speed up the submission process.  Along with basic information, you will also be asked to list:

  • some awards and accomplishments
  • volunteer and community service activities
  • participation in clubs, sports, after-school, or extra-curricular activities

You will be uploading directly into the submission form, so have your files ready.

We are interested in hearing your ruminations on the Senior Citizens in your world. “Mind your elders” is a phrase that is often negative, said as a way to get us to behave. There is another meaning, though. Which is “to listen,” “to pay attention to.” We don’t want to tell anyone how to write a poem, but our primary intention is the latter interpretation. We have much to garner from the elders among us, and we want to hear what you have garnered (or are garnerning)– positive, negative, and anything in between.

The obvious place to go is to grandparents, or elder members of your family, and they are rich subjects, but we also encourage you to reach out, look around, “mind” the elders in your larger community, as well.

We intend to gather a number of these poems in an online anthology to create a kind of poetic map of the state, an emotional geography that may look very different from the shape, boundaries and borders with which we are so familiar.

You can see the map of the Poems of Place from the first round by clicking here.

For last year’s contest, we assembled a group of professional New Jersey poets, their biographies are below. The 2018 Panel will be assembled from the many professional poets who call this state home.

Eloise Bruce is the author of Rattle ( CavenKerry Press 2004) and her work has appeared in many journals and anthologies. She is a member of Cool Women a performance and critic group and is included in their five anthologies and two CD’s. She has been a featured reader at the Dodge Poetry Festival. She holds an MFA in directing from the University of Alabama, an M Ed in Secondary English from Mercer University, and a BFA in Theater from Wesleyan College. She has attended a Sarah Lawrence College’s Writer’s Workshop and has been a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Eloise received a NJSCA Fellowship in Poetry for 1998 and been on staff and a member of the advisory broad for the The Frost Place Center for the Arts. During the following theater employment, she adapted over 20 works of children’s literature for the stage: Creative Theater, Artistic Director; Idaho Theater for Youth, Artistic Director; Director , Idaho Shakespeare Festival; and Asolo Theater in Sarasota, Florida, Education Director.

Claudia Cortese is a poet, essayist, and fiction writer. Her first book, WASP QUEEN, was published by Black Lawrence Press in 2016. She has had work featured in Blackbird, Black Warrior Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast Online, and The Offing, among others, and is a book reviewer for Muzzle Magazine. The daughter of Neapolitan immigrants, Cortese grew up in Ohio and lives in New Jersey. She also lives at

Penny Harter has worked as a teaching artist, visiting elementary and secondary schools all over New Jersey for the New Jersey State Council on the Arts AIE program, the New Jersey Writers Project, and the Dodge Foundation. Her poems and short fiction appear in numerous anthologies and magazines worldwide, and her autobiographical essay appears in Contemporary Authors. A teacher of high school English for many years, her essays on teaching writing appear in several volumes published by Teachers & Writers Collaborative. In January, 2009, she moved from Summit (Union County) to Mays Landing (Atlantic County).

Her more recent books include Recycling Starlight (2010), The Night Marsh (2008), Along River Road (2005), Buried in the Sky (2001), and Lizard Light: Poems From the Earth (1998), and she has given readings, talks, and workshops coast-to-coast, as well as in Canada and Japan. Her illustrated children’s alphabestiary, The Beastie Book, was published by Shenanigan Books in December, 2009, and a 25th anniversary edition of The Haiku Handbook, co-written with her late husband, the poet and translator William J. Higginson, also came out from Kodansha International in 2009.

She has received three fellowships in poetry from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a teaching award from the Dodge Foundation, and the Mary Carolyn Davies Memorial Award from Poetry Society of America. She also was named the first recipient of the William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award. A Dodge poet, she was invited to read at the 2010 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, and she recently received a fellowship from Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) for a residency there in January, 2011.

David Keller is the author of five collections of poetry. He has taught poetry workshops in New York and has served as Poetry Coordinator for biennial poetry festivals, on the Board of Governors for the Poetry Society of America, and as a member of the Advisory Board of The Frost Place. He lives in New Jersey.

Meghan Privitello is a poet living in New Jersey where she serves as co-editor of The New Megaphone.  She is a recipient of a 2014 New Jersey State Council of the Arts fellowship in poetry. Her first manuscript, A New Language For Falling Out Of Love, is forthcoming from YesYes Books in September 2014.  Work has appeared or is forthcoming in Gulf Coast, Kenyon Review, Boston Review, Best New Poets 2012 & elsewhereYou can follow her on twitter @meghanpriv.

Joseph Rathgeber is an author, poet, high school English teacher, and adjunct professor from New Jersey.  His short stories and poems have appeared in The Literary Review, J Journal: New Writing on Justice, Mizna, Salamander, and elsewhere.  His story collection is The Abridged Autobiography of Yousef R. and Other Stories (ELJ Publications, 2014).  His work of hybrid poetry is MJ (Another New Calligraphy, 2015). He is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee, recipient of a 2014 New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship (Poetry), and a 2016 National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship (Prose).  He is a member of the National Writers Union UAW Local 1981/AFL-CIO and Federation of Adjunct Faculty AFT Local 6025

Arthur Wilson is currently co-publisher/editor of Attitude Magazine celebrating it’s 25th anniversary year, as well as an Arts & Education Academy Artists for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, NJ, and has served as advisor/tutor for the Antioch University Masters’ Degree Program in Acting at the New Actor’s Workshop (New York) founded and directed by legendary actor/director Mike Nichols. Wilson is a residency and professional staff development artist for Young Audiences Of New Jersey; has joined the artist roster of Arts Horizons as a Poetry Workshop leader and Master Teacher with Special Education and Austism; in addtion, Mr. Wilson is a Member Of the Board for the New Dance Group Art Center in New York where his choreo-poem “Government Interference – But I’m Still Dancing On Eternity” premiered September 2007 and is bound for a Paris Production Spring 2008. His first complete book of poetry – Unfinished Screams is scheduled for publication in 2008 by Atlanta Press.

His work with the Artists Collective Of New Jersey has taken him into Juvenile Detention Centers and other community organizations in New Jersey. Telling Our Stories – an Oral History Project with Newark Seniors of Navada Street continues in its’ second year sponsored by Playwrights Theater Of New Jeresy’s Education Department. Mr. Wilson is coordinating this project with the Mayor’s Office Of Newark. Biographical references have appeared in Who’s Who In America; The International Registry Of Distinguished Leadership; and Who’s Who In the World over the last decade. He is currently working on his first spoken word CD also titled Unfinished Screams with legendary mbira musician Kevin Hylton.


The submission form is located at the bottom of this page. The submission form is currently inactive. We will open submissions for 2017-18 in May 2017.

If you are experiencing problems with the website, or have questions about the program contact:

Jim Devivo
Director of Education
Writers Theatre of New Jersey