Submitting Creative Work is Scary and Rewarding

Noelle with award for poem work

I’ve been writing poetry (my first favorite piece!) since my senior year of high school where I learned about Claudia Rankine and Sarah Kay and how poems don’t have to be inspired by Shakespeare. Can you believe? Over the years, I’ve gradually written more pieces until my big break last semester in creative writing poetry where I truly discovered my voice. I was nervous every time I had to share my pieces in class, but gradually grew in confidence after every workshop and rounds of feedback. After much pressure from my different poetry professors, I decided to submit my work to any outlets I felt suited me. Every April, the Baylor English department hosts the Beall Poetry Festival where renowned poets perform readings, lead discussions, and share new work. One of the highlights of the festival is the Student Literary Contest that offers certificates and cash prizes to four student poets and two student fiction writers whose work is chosen by special judges in the field. I submitted my favorite poem I’ve ever written, titled “Dear George” to the contest because I’m especially proud of my work in the piece and I thought the subject matter was worth sharing with anyone who would listen. I wrote “Dear George” as a sort of letter or correspondence to George Stinney Jr., a Black boy who was wrongfully convicted of murder and was the youngest person to ever be legally executed in the United States. I found George’s story one night on Twitter and I was never the same after reading it, knowing he was exonerated of the crimes 70 years after his murder. I immediately began my work on the piece, which spewed out of me onto the page. One reason why I was afraid to share this piece publicly is because I never want to exploit a tragedy, especially one so heartbreaking and cruel as what was done to George Stinney Jr., so I hope that my writing does him some justice. I was extremely nervous when I thought about submitting my work, but knowing that poems can tell stories others may not hear otherwise made me feel like it was irresponsible not to broadcast George’s story to open ears. After being named the second place winner of the Robert Collmer Poetry Prize, I had to read my poem in front of the entire ceremony audience, which was one of the scariest experiences for me (social anxiety is real, guys). However, post-reading, multiple people mentioned they never knew who George was and that they wanted to read more about his story, which made the whole process worth it. I’m learning how to step out of the extremely tiny box I’ve created for myself and find the most rewarding experiences are actually within my grasp. I hope I honored George with this certificate.