Wyoming student surprises herself with a win from countywide poetry contest

San Juan Diego Academy Seventh Grader Nurit Gonzalez with her winning poetry piece "April."
San Juan Diego Academy Seventh Grader Nurit Gonzalez with her winning poetry piece “April.”

Every student is bound to get that school assignment where you write a story or poem and then have to submit it to a local writing competition.


At least that was the assignment for Nurit Gonzalez, a seventh grader at Wyoming’s San Juan Diego Academy, and her classmates. The 23-member class was just wrapping up its poetry unit when their teacher, Molly Pelak, announced the students would each need to select one poem from their collection to enter the Dyer Ives Kent County Poetry Competition.


“I had never done something like the before,” Pelak said, admitting she had never heard of Dyer Ives until her principal had forwarded her information about the annual competition. “I have a classroom with many of whom write pretty well and I thought this was a great way to end the unit.”


Gonzalez looked over her poems that covered various topics from rain to her favorite sport, soccer. She decided to select “April” because she liked the way it had come together and “because it is the month my birthday is in.”


She submitted it and from there, really did not give the poetry competition much thought. “I really didn’t think it was going to go anywhere,” she said.


This year the Dyer Ives Kent County Poetry Contest had a huge increase with nearly 400 entries, due in part to area teachers sending in student work, according to coordinator Christine Stephens Krieger. “More first-time poets are entering and winning the competition alongside more experienced local poets, so we end up with a mix of voices to represent Kent County,” Krieger said. “Poetry is alive and well in Kent County, thanks in part to efforts like this competition and teachers who prompt students to write a poem and send it in.”


Nurit Gonzalez's poem "April."
Nurit Gonzalez’s poem “April.”

The Dyer Ives Kent County Poetry Contest is a free poetry competition started by the Dyer Ives Foundation in 1968 to encourage excellence in writing and to provide recognition for local work of high quality. The contest is open to Kent County residents of all ages. There are three divisions: kindergarten – eighth grade; high school – undergraduate; and graduate – adult.


The standards are high for the competition as every year there is a panel of judges alone with a national judge. This year’s national judge was Maria Mazziotti Gillan, who has published 20 books, been on NPR and CBS, is the founder/executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, editor of Paterson Literary Review, director of the Binghamton Center for Writers and professor of English at Binghamton University-SUNY.


Gillan said because there were so many good poems, it was “difficult to choose” the winners. With that spirit, the Dyer Ives Foundation decided to add an Honorable Mention category to celebrate more Kent County poets in this year’s publication of “Voices,” which features all the winners of the 2016 competition. Gonzalez’s poem “April” was one of five to receive an honorable mention in the kindergarten – eighth grade division. Along with being published, she will read it June 4 at 1 p.m. at the Ryerson Auditorium at the Grand Rapids Main Library, 111 Library St. NE. The reading is part of the Festival of the Arts, a celebration of the local arts that takes place June 3 – 5 in downtown Grand Rapids.


“Our teacher announced that one of us had made it in and then she was like, ‘Drumroll please,’” Gonzalez, the daughter of Maria Martinez and Josè Gonzalez, said of the day she found out about her winning piece. And how did it make her feel? “I can actually do something,” she said.


Besides playing soccer for a travel team, writing is another passion for Gonzalez. “I do enjoy writing a lot,” she said. “I mostly write fiction as I like to make up stories as I go.”


Poetry was a new challenge and one that Gonzalez said she enjoyed, however; her goal is to write a book, something that the Dyer Ives has given her the confidence to get started. “I love writing that makes people think,” she said. “So the reader can ask questions and think.”


In five years, she is hoping to have that book written as she heads off to college maybe for sports medicine since she loves soccer so much, Gonzalez said.


She also has some advice for those students facing that assignment to enter a piece of writing into a contest.


“Try to do the best on what they are writing and stop thinking those negative thoughts that yours isn’t good enough,” Gonzalez said. “There is always that one chance that you can.”