2018 Award Winners & Finalists


Up North Poetry Prize


"Litmus Test" by Gen Del Raye

"There were many strong poems in the pool of submissions, but ‘Litmus Test’ immediately stood out to me for the clarity of line, the understated lyricism, the deft use of metaphor, and most significantly, for the way it contends with American history. In ‘Litmus Test’, we see a history of American violence and racism named, made personal, explored generationally, and ultimately refigured. James Baldwin wrote, ‘People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them,’ and while ‘Litmus Test’ acknowledges the presence of the past, the burden of discrimination, the systems of otherizing ourselves as Americans, it also offers a reprieve from this paradigm: ‘You find the places / your parents were born in // and all the places / you’ve ever lived // and take the average / which usually lands you // somewhere in a sweep / of ocean.’" — Kai Carlson-Wee, 2018 Judge



“Open Season” by John Sibley Williams
”Inclination” by C. Mikal Oness



"How to Eat Breakfast After Your Dad Dies" by Kinga Mozes

"One of the things I immediately loved about this poem was its directness, its ability to render the tenderness of the world, even in the face of great loss. Through keen observations and searing descriptions, ‘How to Eat Breakfast After Your Dad Dies’ is a moving elegy about the complexity of meaning in times of grief. It asks one of the most difficult questions in life: How do we honor our loved ones that have passed away? This poem knows that communicating grief is largely impossible (‘I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry’), and turns instead to the particulars of the world. We see the daughter’s grief through actions, by physically placing the father’s glasses on her own face, looking at the living world through his eyes. I don’t know a better way of honoring someone’s life, and this poem captures the difficulty of that experience with absolute honesty and grace. A beautiful poem, difficult as it is, and one I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come." — Kai Carlson-Wee, 2018 Judge



“Summer Grain” by Bryce Murray
”Mahogony Take What You Will.” by Nicole Tooley



"The Room of Love and Shattered Dreams" by Sandhya Srinivasan

“The beautifully relentless exploration for self-healing throughout Srinivasan’s narrative is what separated ‘The Room of Love and Shattered Dreams’ from other submissions this year. The 2019 Stephen Bonga prose winner does well in creating not only a longing attachment to the past but also a yearning for a fonder present. With a complicated meshing of love and anger toward an absent sister, Tarana, the main character, has no choice but to navigate inward for answers. ‘The Room of Love and Shattered Dreams’ sums up the impossible resolution well: ‘As long as you are satisfied with life, so am I. I shall wonder about you periodically, but I will not fret. It is hard coming to terms with your disappearance, but, for your sake, I will. Alekhya, my sweet sister, I will always remember you as you were, my beacon of comfort, my heartbreaker. Wherever you are, I shall love you.’” — Steve Fruehauf, High School Editor


"The Mystery of the Sea" by Caroline Kelley