There is always a buzz surrounding The Steger Award

Undergraduate students at Virginia Tech compose a poem about the future and compete for a $1,000 prize. It is considered to be the largest award of its kind in the country. 

This year the event also reflected upon the past as the event founder, University Distinguished Professor of English Nikki Giovanni, read a poem entitled, “These Women.” The internationally renowned poet was inspired to pen this poem after seeing photographs of women from a local historic African American community. 

A former Virginia Tech student spent two years interviewing residents of Wake Forest, Va., transcribing their oral histories for her undergraduate research project. John McCormick, a former photographer for the university, took the pictures that attracted Giovanni’s attention.

Giovanni read “These Women” to an audience that included the women from Wake Forest; the same women who are now pictured in a book that celebrates that single poem. It was the first meeting between Giovanni and the women of Wake Forest but they received one another like family.

Morgan Cain Grim, the 2009 graduate with a major in interdisciplinary studies who compiled the oral histories, also attended the event and was delighted to reunite with both her former professor and the group of women with whom she had talked so frankly and earnestly. Grim had also won the top poetry prize in 2009.

After this reflection on the past, the evening shifted into fast forward as 10 students read their poems about the future. Kyle Gardiner of Charlottesville, Va., a senior political science and philosophy double major, took the $1,000 first-place award for his poem, entitled "American Dreams."

The second place prize of $500 went to Mary Span of Winchester, Va., a senior English major, with her poem, entitled "One Day." Drew Knapp of Hickory, N.C., a senior English major, won the $300 third place award for "Friday, June 22nd."

Virginia Tech President Charles W. Steger, the award’s benefactor, personally congratulated all of the award winners.

The rest of the top-10 finalists included

  • Nicholas Allen of Hanover, Va., a first-year English major, for his poem entitled "Dear Two Thousand and Twelve;"
  • Alexandra Gavis of Manassas, Va., a senior international studies major, for her poem entitled "May Flowers;"
  • Kathryn Murphy of Fairfax, Va., a senior English and political science double major, for her poem "Deathbed Pep Talk;"
  • Hung-Vuong Alexander Pham of Annandale, Va., a senior political science and English major, for his poem called "Qualifications;"
  • Jordan Scott of Virginia Beach, Va., a junior English major, for "Pouring Water on Flowers at Three in the Afternoon;"
  • Shelby Ward of Bluefield, Va., a senior English major, for "Impregnated by Night;" and
  • Amber Weyland of Hopewell, Va., a senior English major, for her poem entitled "Where I've Been."

All top-10 finalists have majors in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.

The competition was judged by Aileen Murphy, who also serves as director of the Blue Ridge Writing Project; Frederick  D'Aguiar, the Gloria D. Smith Professor of Africana Studies; and Ennis McCrery, the graduate student ombudsperson at Virginia Tech. In addition to the monetary award, a small memento made by local jeweler Faith Capone is presented to the winner.



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