By Katie Neitz

Mario Sanchez ’21 is an avid and aspiring writer. But he’s never shared his work publically—let alone into a microphone at a podium before an audience of 60 people, including faculty members and an award-winning slam poet.

As winner of the English department’s Jean Corrie Poetry Prize, Sanchez dismissed his nerves and allowed himself to fall into the rhythm of his piece, “Poem about a Flower, ” at a recent poetry reading and ice cream social to celebrate student poets in Pfenning Alumni Center.

Mario Sanchez ’21 and Ryan Branch '21, winners of the Jean Corrie Poetry Competition

Mario Sanchez ’21 and Ryan Branch ’21

Renowned poet sam sax (who spells his name with all lowercase letters) judged the event, which is open to first-, second-, and third-year students, and selected Sanchez’s poem for the top prize and a poem by Ryan Branch ’21 as runner-up.

“Writing is usually a private thing to me, and I never really share it,” Sanchez says. “One of the lines from this poem just came to me, and I knew I had to write it down. I didn’t know where it was coming from or where it was going. To have a person like sam sax tell you that he likes your work gives me a lot of hope for my future.”

Sax, winner of The National Poetry Series and the James Laughlin Award from the Academy of American Poets, is an author and two-time Bay Area Grand Slam Champion whose poems have appeared in BuzzFeed, The New York Times, Poetry Magazine, and other journals, read several of his poems, which explore deeply personal aspects and experiences of his life, such as addiction, cancer, love, sex, and loss.

Though the spotlight was on Sanchez and Branch, who recited their winning entries for the crowd, all students were encouraged to take the mic. Five additional students accepted the invite and shared their poetry. Many students stayed to sit with sax, who participated in an open Q&A and answered questions about his inspiration and process.

The event, which was organized by Assistant Professor of English Megan Fernandes, precedes the College’s H. MacKnight Black Poetry and Literature Prize, which is awarded to a senior. That celebration and reading will occur at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 24, in room 104 of Kirby Hall of Civil Rights.

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