Academy of American Poets History

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In 1988, English professor Kathy Fagan brought the Academy of American Poets Contest to Cal Poly’s campus. The English department gives $150 per year to the Academy which funds the contest. Each year, the contest is judged by an outside poet and the first place winner receives $100.

“When I started the prize it was my intention to have a well-known national judge evaluate the student manuscripts each year, and we did that,” Fagan said. “How marvelous for our little poems to make their way into the hands of serious readers and writers. I love that about the Academy of American Poets Prize.”

It was the first of the creative writing contests that the English department now sponsors. The competition has recognized over 100 Cal Poly students since its inception.

Here is a more in-depth look about how the program has evolved over the years:

AAP logo

1955: AAP starts university contest

Academy of American Poets organization starts university-level contests at 10 colleges around the nation. Currently, it hosts 200 contests at different universities and has awarded more than $350,000 to nearly 10,000 student poets. First place winners receive a $100 prize.

 

Kathy Fagan

1988: Kathy Fagan brings contest to Cal Poly

Poetry professor Kathy Fagan brings the Academy of American Poets contest to the Cal Poly students, 32 years after the program's beginning. "When I arrived at Poly as a very young poetry professor I was eager to build all-things-creative writing there. I had won the Academy of American Poets Contest myself at some point as a graduate student, so I knew of its prestige and its reputation, and I wanted to bring that excitement to Poly," Fagan said.

 

Byzantium cover

1990: Byzantium begins at Cal Poly

Byzantium, Cal Poly's literary magazine, started in 1990 and features short stories as well as poetry. Many students that win the Academy of American Poets also get their work published in Byzantium during their time at Cal Poly.

 

 

Kevin Clark

1990: Kevin Clark takes over contest

Guest Judges from outside universities pick the winners each year. Here Kevin Clark is pictured with nationally published, award-winning poets Hannah Stein and Wendy Barker.

 

 

 

 

Angie Estes

1991: Angie Estes takes over contest administration

Professor Fagan passed the torch Professor Estes three years later after the contest was established at Cal Poly. "I think that contests--especially ones with judges from outside the university and community--are enormously helpful for student writers. Such contests serve to validate and encourage students who may write with an esthetic that is different from the one that may be predominant in any particular program," she said.

 

 

Kevin Clark with judges

2003: Kevin Clark with Guest Judges

Moebius was Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts quarterly magazine that included publishing from every department. Winners of the Academy of American Poets Contest had the honor of being published in the magazine from 2008 to 2011, when the publication stopped being printed. Now, winning poems are published on the English department's website.

 

Moebius logo

AAP Contest Winners published in Moebius

Moebius was Cal Poly College of Liberal Arts quarterly magazine that included publishing from every department. Winners of the Academy of American Poets Contest had the honor of being published in the magazine from 2008 to 2011, when the publication stopped being printed. Now, winning poems are published on the English department's website.

 

Eli Williams

2013: Winners

Pictured, Eli Williams won honorable mention for his poem "Cut & Dry". Williams read his winning poem at LoverSpeak 2014, a Byzantium benefit. "My goal as a poet is to create something that feels real to life– something accessible and relatable, but unexpected. In my poetry, I'm trying to find a way to create surprising images that tell visceral human truths. And one of the best ways for me to find these truths is to observe the people and the things around me," Williams said. 2013 Winner Madi Mori won first place for her poem "Ten Cents."

 

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