The Worcester County Poetry Association inaugurated the College Poetry Contest in 2008 to encourage and recognize the next generation of poets. The finalists are nominated by faculty and administrators from participating colleges in Worcester County. Submissions are judged for the Manuscript Prize, and finalists are asked to perform two submitted poem at an event held each April for the Performance Prize. Judges are chosen from the central Massachusetts poetry community.
In September 2018 the Worcester County Poetry Association Annual College Poetry Contest was renamed the “Elizabeth Bishop Manuscript Prize” and “Etheridge Knight Performance Prize” in honor of their connections to Worcester. Thanks to the generosity of the Annual College Poetry Contest founder, Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, the WCPA has also established an endowment with the Greater Worcester Community Foundation to support and sustain this annual literary event. More info on the renaming of the contest can be found below.
Students compete for a cash award and a one-year WCPA membership in each category. Additionally, a poem from the winning manuscript will be published in the next edition of the WCPA literary journal, The Worcester Review.
Thanks to the generosity of the Annual College Poetry Contest founder, Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, the WCPA has also established an endowment with the Greater Worcester Community Foundation to support and sustain this annual literary event. Sweeney founded the annual competition in 2008 when she was the Association’s president.
Her gift will also allow the WCPA to honor two nationally and internationally known poets who were deeply influenced by Worcester: Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the Neustadt Prize; and Etheridge Knight (1931-1991), winner of the American Book Award. From now on, the two prizes awarded at the competition each year will be known as the Elizabeth Bishop Manuscript Prize and the Etheridge Knight Performance Prize. Bishop, who was born in Worcester, spent part of her childhood living there with her paternal grandparents; her famous poem, “In the Waiting Room,” begins “In Worcester, Massachusetts . . .” Knight was “Born black in Mississippi,” as he explains in “A Poem for Myself,” but he lived in Worcester in the 1970s, founded the Free People’s Poetry Workshop there, and became an important figure in the local poetry community.