Sophomore wildlife conservation major Gretchen Goeke Dee of Manassas, Virginia, took first place in Virginia Tech’s 10th annual Steger Poetry Prize. Michelle Wright of Norfolk, Virginia, a freshman wildlife conservation major, earned third place in the competition, established in 2005 by Charles W. Steger, Virginia Tech’s president at the time. Nikki Giovanni, world-renowned poet and University Distinguished Professor of English, presented the awards.

Michelle Wright

“Whole,” Goeke Dee’s winning entry, “is a poem about me accidentally slicing my palm open and getting five stitches while in a state of weary, existential sleep deprivation,” she explained. Although Wright said her entry, “Spoken Word: To Be Woman,” means different things to her at different times, “I think the overall theme of it is strength in the face of weakness, allowing yourself room to just exist, and be okay with, letting yourself know it’s okay to take up space as a woman.”

Steger, now president emeritus, funds the prizes and participates in the event where the top 10 poems are read. This year, he increased the top cash prize to $1,100, making the purse the most generous in the world for undergraduate poetry competitions.