Hirshfield Poetry Competition: “Truly something special.”

The Evanston Public Library is currently accepting submissions for the Jo-Anne Hirshfield Memorial Poetry Competition.

In 2015, Anna Harvey won the Jo-Anne Hirshfield Memorial Poetry Award in the high school category for her poem, “Colombiana”. A former ETHS student, now a freshman at Brown University, Harvey continues to find solace in writing and feels grateful for the exposure the competition gave her work. We caught up with her via email.

Tell me about yourself as a writer.

I could say that I’ve been writing since I was a child, but that’s not really true. I did want to be a writer for a while when I was in the first grade or so, and wrote a bunch of stories about a dog named Sari. Then I stopped for a while because being the quiet kid who reads all the time and wants to write books one day is apparently a little weird in middle school.

Once I got to high school, though, I started to write again after the encouragement of some of my English teachers, who noticed I had a tendency to get rather creative in my academic essays. I went to the Iowa Young Writer’s Studio the summer after my junior year, and that was where I really got the confidence to call myself a writer. Before, I was still that kid who really liked adjectives but didn’t know how to make anything of it.
I wrote a lot of poetry during my junior and senior years of high school, mostly because I found that I liked playing with language more than plot. Now that I’m a freshman in college, I’ve started writing more creative nonfiction, which allows me to experiment with language as much as I like while basing a narrative in some kind of fact, which is less daunting to me than creating an entire world from scratch.

Tell me about why poetry is important to you and/or important to the world.

In the times we live in, poetry can seem frivolous, but I would argue that it, along with other forms of art, is more important than ever. Poetry is a vehicle not only for exploring language, but also for exploring humanity at its core. It makes the personal political. Poetry is one of the most democratic forms of art because most anyone can do it; everyone has a story to tell, even if it’s just about the sandwich she ate for lunch last Tuesday.  The act of writing poetry is an inherently solitary pursuit, but the end result is just as often the beginnings of connection between people from all walks of life.  Plus, it sounds pretty.

Have you been working on other writing since the contest? 

I’ve been writing feature articles for a magazine on campus, which are mostly personal essays ranging from thoughts about the transition to college, to cooking eggs, and to the recent Gilmore Girls revival.

What was most important to you in being acknowledged for your work with the Hirshfield Award?

Being recognized in a public way for something I did privately gave me the confidence to share more of my writing with people I loved and with the world as a whole. It was that bit of reassurance that I was doing okay, that what I spent my time on was worthwhile, and most of all, that it meant something to someone other than myself.

Any other thoughts about your experience with the Library’s poetry contest?
I love that it’s multigenerational–in one setting you can hear a six-year-old’s poem about her pet fish and a seventy-three-year-old’s elegy to the Chicago of her youth. It’s truly something special.


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