The Academy of American Poets Announces Winner of the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students

New York, NY (January 9, 2020)—The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce that tenth grader Samantha Aikman from Mount Mansfield Union High School in Richmond, Vermont, has been named the winner of the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students. Aikman's artwork was selected by former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera and award-winning cartoonist Alison Bechdel from among ten outstanding finalists and 180 student submissions. The Academy of American Poets will distribute 100,000 free copies of the 2020 National Poetry Month poster featuring Aikman's artwork to libraries, schools, bookstores, and community centers nationwide. The poster will also be available for download

As the winner of the contest, Aikman will receive $500, a $500 gift certificate to Blick Art Materials, and art supplies from Sakura Color of America. She will also be featured in the April 2020 issue of American Poets magazine. 

NPM Poster Contest winner 2020 (c) Sam Aikman

The judges have additionally selected artwork by twelfth grader Kai Huie from The Bronx High School of Science in New York, New York, to receive Honorable Mention for the 2020 National Poetry Month Poster Contest for Students. As the runner-up Huie will receive $250. 

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For the contest, the Academy of American Poets invited students in grades nine through twelve to submit artwork that incorporated line(s) from the poem “Remember” by current U. S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo and that reflected a celebration of the art of poetry. Aikman chose the following line: 

“Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.”

In her artist's statement, Aikman writes: “This sentence from the poem ‘Remember’ by Joy Harjo was meaningful to me because the message often becomes lost in everyday life. It is easy to get stuck in the linear routines of work, school, weather, and to-do lists. It’s important to enjoy the spontaneous nature of living. Because the meaning of this sentence is so dynamic, I struggled with finding the way it should be conveyed. I contemplated writing the sentence on index cards, cardboard and paper leaves, and ultimately decided on ‘tree cookies,’ as my family calls them, because they seemed like the most natural option: they vary in size, are somewhat round, come from the forest, and they could hang freely, not fixed and at different heights. It was windy the day the words were hung up, and they moved a little when the photo was taken. It felt appropriate that they were tilted at different angles because it showed the natural element of being outside on a fall day, and it didn’t feel manufactured or staged. It looked almost as if the words appeared overnight on their own in the tree. In Vermont, fall is very vibrant; there are a few weeks where the foliage peaks, and the whole world glows with the change. This picture reflects the unique feeling of fall and the way the change makes me feel. This image engages the sentence in an organic way by showing the motion involved in life, the outdoors, and poetry that examines change, like ‘Remember.’”

About Aikman's artwork, judge Juan Felipe Herrera says: “Autumn comes upon us as it greets winter—change and transformation, falling and rising, life moves and breathes through every season, forever. Yes life is always in motion—an extremely profound phrase, a striking set of images from nature and most urgent meditation.”

“Samantha’s image expresses this particular line from Harjo’s poem with great vibrancy,” says judge Alison Bechdel. “In her photograph, the words about motion and growth integrate seamlessly with the ramifying branches, leaves and berries of the tree. The poster is a powerful and organic fusion of language with the natural world, giving the effect, as the artist herself notes, that the words of the poem ‘appeared overnight on their own in the tree.’” 

Huie, the Runner-Up, chose the following lines from Harjo's poem: 

“Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.”

In her artist's statement, Huie states: “The message of ‘Remember’ is very much aligned with the philosophy of Native culture. I constantly reference this philosophy in my painting because it focuses on reciprocity and respect for the environment. Humans are part of a larger universe that requires cooperation between all living beings. In the painting, the bees pollinate the plants, whose leaves/seeds feed the birds and prairie dogs. They are the foundations for a larger ecosystem—we all owe our existence to the environment. The poem and painting tell us to work together, give back to the environment, and remember that we are all connected.”

“The closer you look at these intricately rendered flowers, animals, birds and insects,” writes Bechdel, “the more you’re rewarded. Form and content are linked through the paint daubs that mimic Native American beadwork, and the choice to represent species that coexist within a particular ecosystem makes the image as instructive as it is beautiful. The poster itself becomes an example of what Harjo calls an ‘alive poem.’”

About Huie's work, Herrera says: “This is a most studied and respectful story and rendition of Native American cultural symbols and the key value of reciprocity, interdependence of all elements, animals and human beings in one big life sphere. We can also pay homage to the peoples of Oklahoma and its state bird and ecosystems. We can all talk to each other, communicate and strengthen our sense of community, and enrich our sources of wisdom.”

Request a free copy of the National Poetry Month poster featuring Aikman's winning artwork in time for the April 2020 celebration

About Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2015 to 2017. He is the author of many collections of poetry, including Notes on the Assemblage (City Lights, 2015), Senegal Taxi (University of Arizona Press, 2013), and Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (University of Arizona Press, 2008), a recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the PEN/Beyond Margins Award. His books for children include Lejos / Far (Candlewick Press, 2019), Jabberwalking (Candlewick Press, 2018), which won the International Latino Book Award; and The Upside Down Boy (Children's Book Press, 2000), which was adapted into a musical in New York City. Herrera has received fellowships and grants from the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Stanford Chicano Fellows Program, and the University of California at Berkeley. He has also received the L.A. Times Book Prize's Robert Kirsch Award for lifetime achievement. Herrera is Professor Emeritus at California State University, Fresno and UC Riverside. He served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2011 to 2016. 

About Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Mariner Books, 2006), which Time magazine named the Best Book of 2006, was adapted into a Broadway musical by the playwright Lisa Kron and the composer Jeanine Tesori. It won five Tony Awards, including “Best Musical.” About Bechdel's memoir Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (Mariner Books, 2012), Katie Roiphe of the New York Times Book Review wrote, “The book delivers lightning bolts of revelation, maps of insight and visual snapshots of family entanglements in a singularly beautiful style.” Bechdel’s comics, which include the long-running series Dykes to Watch Out For, have appeared in The New YorkerSlateMcSweeney’sThe New York Times Book Review, and Granta. She is the recipient of an Eisner Award, Guggenheim Fellowship, and a Stonewall Book Award. In 2014 she was named a MacArthur Fellow.

About National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month was inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996 and takes place each April. Over the years, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, community centers, and poets honoring poetry's vital place in our culture. The special month of programs is made possible by more than 70 poetry partners and sponsors, as well as the National Endowment for the Arts.  

About the Academy of American Poets

The Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with members in all fifty states. Founded in 1934, the organization produces, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; National Poetry Month; the popular Poem-a-Day series; American Poets magazine; Teach This Poem and other award-winning resources for K-12 educators; and an annual series of poetry readings and special events. In addition, the Academy of American Poets coordinates a national Poetry Coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture and the important contribution poetry makes in the lives of people of all ages and backgrounds. This year the organization has awarded more funds to poets than any other organization, giving a total of $1,250,000 to poets at various stages of their careers.