In 1988, Karren Alenier designed the Young Poets Competition and invited Gail Ranadive to sdevelop and run the first competition as part of her MFA graduate studies at The American University. Over the years, the program has been organized and carried out by such poets and teachers as Maxine Clair, Lisa Horwitz, Elaine Magarrell, Mary Quattlebaum, Betty Stegall, Jodi Suleiman, and Perry Epes. In 2006, the Competition was renamed The Jacklyn Potter Young Poets Competition to honor the long-standing director of the Joaquin Miller Cabin Poetry Series where the winners of the Competition read their original poetry.


THE WORD WORKS invites Washington, DC area high school students to submit their original poetry for consideration in its annual Jacklyn Potter Young Poets Competition. There will be two winners selected. The winners and other notable entrants will be recommended for a reading at the Nora School Poetry Series held in Silver Spring, Maryland, on the second Thursday of the month during the school year.

IF SELECTED, the winners will:

  • Receive an honorarium.
  • Read their original work in an outdoor setting near the Joaquin Miller Cabin in Rock Creek Park one evening in June or July (to be arranged).
  • Appear with an established poet at that reading.


  • Manuscript of five or six poems.
  • Name, address, and phone number in the upper right corner of every manuscript page.
  • Separate cover page with:
    • Name,
    • Address,
    • Phone number,
    • Email Address,
    • Name of school,
    • Grade,
    • Expected graduation date, and
    • List of the titles of poems submitted.
  • Self-addressed stamped envelope for notification of competition results.
  • Submission period: January 1 to March 31 each year.


      Word Works, Young Poets Competition
       PO Box 42164
       Washington, DC 20015

  Questions -- Contact:

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Jacqueline Jules has named senior Neil Hailey of Woodbridge Senior High School as winner of the Jacklyn Potter Young Poets Competition. Neil Hailey will read with poet Sarah Browning on June 26 in the 2015 Joaquin Miller Poetry Series.

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1988 - Laura Flippin & Robin Suleiman
1989 - Tamara Gawthrop & Deborah Wassertzug
1990 - Sarah DeWeerdt & Melissa Levine
1991 - Tracee Rhodes & Sonja Weisel
1992 - Guang-Shing Cheng & Cristina Brown
1993 - Jennifer Dante & Erica Weitzman
1994 - Kim Lynn & Ann Strom
1995 - Lisa Cantey & Craig McEldowney
1996 - Joe Bawol & Elizabeth Hazen
1997 - Jennifer LeRoy & Melissa Marshall
1998 - Michelle Gil-Montero & Damon Talbott
1999 - Maia McAleavey & Dora Malech
2000 - Pilar Andrus & Katherine Plimpton
2001 - Shan Shi & Sarah Stillman
2002 - Sarah Shahmoradian & Jessica Talley
2003 - Mike Bushnell & Kino Clarke
2004 - Jeanne Allen & Jo Jimenez
2005 - Laura Fletcher & Haley McKey
2006 - Lauren Schott & Helen Sitar
2007 - Amanda Gutterman & Elizabeth McLean
2008 - Will Frazier & Megan Hauptman
2009 - Katherine Casey & Baobao Zhang
2010 - Will Frazier & Julia Holemans
2011 - Trevor Bobola & Julia Holemans with special honorable mention to Cori Stash
2012 - Zachary Fine & Ariana Yeatts-Lonske
2013 - Elena Botts & Kathryn McDonald Matheson
2014 - Brittany Crow & Maja Olsson
2015 - Neil Hailey

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The Jacklyn Potter Young Poets Competition has been awarded to two young poets annually since 1988. Ever wondered what happened to all those previous winners? Well here you can find updates on former winners and what they've been doing since their high school days. Newer Young poets can learn from the winners of the past! Former winners: if you would like to be included in this section, please get in touch with us!

Deborah Wassertzug (1989)

Since receiving the Word Works Young Poets award in 1989, Deborah received a Master's degree in library science and worked for ten years as the librarian at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University. She is currently the full-time mother of two boys, Jonah and Abraham. She's had two poems published online in a magazine called Can we have our ball back? and continues to think about and read poetry every day. Her memory of the Miller Cabin reading is that she never got to read there! "The night of the reading was rainy, so we convened at Jacklyn Potter's house," she recalls.

Sarah DeWeerdt (1990)

Sarah has been working as a freelance science writer, specializing in biology and the environment, for the past 11 years. Her portfolio is available at Her main focus is her scientific writing now, but she hopes to get back into poetry in the future, and have her creative work published. She won second prize in the Swarthmore College English Department poetry contest in 1992-1993, and had pieces published in her college's literary magazine. "Mostly what I remember is the amazing natural setting, and how pleasant it was to read and listen to poems in the almost-dark," she recalls from her reading at the Joaquin Miller Cabin. "I think also, for a high school student there was something really important about being part of a reading series with “real”/grownup poets—it felt like being taken seriously in a way that wasn’t common but was really welcome."

Sonja Weisel Hibbs (1991)

Sonja is currently a mother of two girls and the Senior Marketing Writer and Editor at a publicly traded financial firm in Austin, Texas. She has had articles published in Children's Hospital's Today Magazine, American Indian Report, The American Society of Clinical Oncology website, and local family and health publications, and has ghostwritten articles for financial industry magazines, a health journal, and other publications. She recalls the first time she read her poems in public, at Miller Cabin: "I was scared to death to read my poems and remember that Richard Harteiss, the poet who was there with me and the other winner, stopped me to tell me to slow down. My poetry was so personal to me and it was difficult to share." Her realization that other people liked what she had to say was a wonderful learning experience for her. Does she still write poetry? "I have a little black book I sometimes scribble words and poems into," she confesses, "my love of poetry has never gone away."

Joe Bawol (1996)

Joe says of his career: "I spent almost a decade in an advertising agency and am now searching out my true career calling. I'll let you know when I actually figure it out." He has shifted from writing poetry to writing song lyrics, both for his own enjoyment and for those close to him. He says his reading at Miller Cabin is "definitely a fond memory. My affinity for Rock Creek Park remains."

Elizabeth Hazen (1996)

Elizabeth is married with an almost four-year-old son, teaching high school English, and working on a manuscript. Poetry is still at the forefront of her life: she has published poems in The Threepenny Review, Bellevue Literary Review, Fourteen Hills, Crab Orchard Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals. She was appreciative of the enthusiastic and supportive audience at the Miller Cabin reading.

Maia McAleavey (1999)

Maia recently earned a PhD in English from Harvard University. In the fall of 2010, she will begin as Assistant Professor of English at Boston College. Her research was on Victorian literature, and her dissertation was entitled "The Shadowy Third: Bigamy and Victorian Novel." Though her main focus is critical work, she still writes poems. A few of her poems were published in Stanford's undergrad literary magazine, and she who the Urmy-Hardy Prize for best poem by an undergraduate at Stanford in 2001.



Dora Malech (1999)

Dora graduated from Yale College with a BA in Fine Arts in 2003 and graduated from the University of Iowa with an MFA degree in Poetry in 2005. She teaches creative writing, academic writing, and literature, and has taught at Victoria University's International Institute of Modern Letters in Wellington, New Zealand; Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa; and Augustana College in Rock Island, Illinois. In Fall 2010, she will serve as Distinguished Writer-in-Residence in Poetry for the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Saint Mary's College of California. She has had poems published in The New Yorker, Poetry, Poetry London, American Letters & Commentary, Best New Poets, and The Yale Review. Her first book of poems, Shore Ordered Ocean, was published by the Waywiser Press in 2009 in the UK and 2010 in the US. The Cleveland State University Poetry Center will publish Say So, her second collection, in late 2010. She has won a Frederick M. Clapp Poetry Writing Fellowship from Yale, a Truman Capote Fellowship and a Teaching-Writing Fellowship from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, a Glenn Schaeffer Poetry Award, and Writer's Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Center in Italy. "I loved growing up near Washington, DC where I could experience the energy of the various overlapping writing communities: Word Works, The Writer's Center, WordWrights, open mic nights, slams, and so forth," she says. "I got to meet E. Ethelbert Miller when I read in the Miller Cabin series, and I was psyched to meet him. Being a part of the Miller Cabin series was an important dose of encouragement and community early on in my writing life."

Sarah Stillman (2001)

Since winning the Word Works Young Poets prize, Sarah has shifted gears into journalism. In 2004, she won the Wright Memorial Prize for Outstanding Journalism from Yale University. In 2005, she won the Elie Wiesel Prize in Ethics, and in 2006, she won the Nation First Annual Student Writing Contest. She has had her work published in The Washington Post, The Nation, TruthDig, The New Republic, and other national outlets. She is currently both working as a freelance journalist in Iraq and Afghanistan, and co-teaching a seminar on war narratives at Yale. Though her focus is now on reporting, when asked if she still writes poetry, she says "Yes - just less frequently, and more furtively!" Her experience at the Miller Cabin was great preparation for her future. She says: "To stand at a podium in the middle of the humid-as-hell woods reading my work alongside other young poets -- and some not-so-young poets I revered -- gave me that first rush of what it might feel like to be part of a true community of writers. It made me want to identify as a "poet," rather than holding that as some secret, half-embarassed identity. For that, I'm still incredibly grateful.

Laura Fletcher (2005)

Laura graduated from Princeton University in May 2010 with degrees in Comparative Literature, Creative Writing, and Translation. She will be completing an English Teaching Fellowship in France in 2010-2011, and will join Teach for America in the Fall of 2011. She has expanded her interests from poetry to translation, winning the Robert and Lynne Fagels Senior Thesis Prize for Work in Translation.


Amanda Gutterman (2007)

Amanda is attending Columbia University, and planning to major in English and minor in French literature. For the summer of 2010 she is interning with The New Yorker in the magazine's fiction department. She writes some poetry, but mostly puts her efforts into fiction. She writes a column for the Columbia Spectator. After winning the Young Poets Competition, she was awarded the Koch Fellowship for summer study abroad at Oxford University as a result of a school-wide essay competition. She also received the National Cathedral School English Prize and the Margaret McBride Award for Excellence in Written French from her high school at graduation time.


Megan Hauptman (2008)

Megan graduated from high school in 2010, and plans to attend Brown College, where she will take some poetry courses. She won a Scholastics Regional Gold Key for her poetry portfolio. Of her Miller Cabin reading, she says, " I thought it was a very interesting experience and I appreciated the age range."

Baobao Zhang (2009)

Baobao is currently studying at Yale University. She plans to apply to the ethics, politics and economics major in the fall of 2010. She spends most of her time reporting for the Yale Daily News. She still writes poetry, focusing on nature and history as subject matter. She has also been writing hymns which a friend puts to music. Two of her poems have been published in the 2010 issue of Point, a literature magazine at Yale. Last year, she received a grant to write a narrative journalism piece for The Yale Daily News. For this project, she traveled to Mississippi to interview two Yale graduates in the Air Force and wrote a 3,000 word essay about their experience in the military. She says of reading at Miller Cabin: "Nature, especially in summer, is just so conducive to poetry."


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