Four Baruch Students Win 2020 Jerome L. Schulman Memorial Poetry Prize
June 1, 2020
The power of poetry prevailed—amid the challenges of a global crisis—to bring out the creative best in four Weissman School of Arts and Sciences undergraduates who are winners of the 2020 Jerome L. Schulman Memorial Poetry Prize.
“This semester has been an extraordinarily difficult time for everyone on the planet, but perhaps especially for Baruch students, who are living in the city that is a major epicenter of the global pandemic,” said Esther Allen, professor in the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature at Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and director of the Harman Writer-in-Residence Program.
“Many [students] continued going in to work at public-facing jobs that are deemed essential, and many belong to communities that have been particularly affected,” Professor Allen said.
The annual competition commemorates the life of Jerome L. Schulman (1927-2016), a devoted husband and pioneering virologist whose research isolated the H3N2 Influenza A virus that caused the 1968 flu pandemic. His widow, Grace Schulman, an acclaimed poet, author, Distinguished Professor of English at Baruch, and a judge of the contest, announced the winners during a ceremony on Zoom on May 21. This year, more than 100 submissions were received.
Professor Allen added, “Grace Schulman, with her unerring eye, selected a portfolio of poems that convey each poet’s considerable expressive abilities, and what our students are living through, and thinking about, in this moment of crisis.”
The cash awards for each prize are $500 for the top prize, $300 for each second-place winner, and $200 for the third-place winner.
Winners of the 2020 Jerome L. Schulman Memorial Poetry Prize:
1st Place: Katherine Hernández (’20)
Poem: Acuerdate de Mi
Major: Journalism/Creative Writing and English
2nd Place: Justine Galvan (’23)
Major: Philosophy and English
2nd Place: Evan Gordon (’21)
Major: Ad Hoc English and Psychology
3rd Place: Zalmy Okunov (’20)
Poem: Memory of Masada
Major: Political Science
Learn More about the First Prize Poem:
Acuerdate de Mi – A tribute to Hernández’ late grandmother
Hernández describes Acuerdate de Mi as an elegy to her late grandmother, Gregoria Hernández. “She was a very strong and resilient woman who single-handedly raised her 14 children in the Dominican Republic,” Hernández said.
“This elegy places an emphasis on the control of the sentiments, images, and form of the poem, giving a space for the reader to navigate the significance of the aforementioned aspects of the piece.” The poem appears in her poetry collection La Heredad Que Me Ha Tocado, which is a product of her spring 2020 independent study course with Dr. Donika Kelly, assistant professor of English.
Winning Students: “Expert in their Craft”
“Judging the anonymous contest, I didn’t recognize the identity of the winners. When you read 100 submissions carefully, you don’t think of whose they are, and also good poetry is often subtle about biography and gender. And they were so good,” said Professor Schulman, who has served as a member of the Weissman School’s Harman Writing Program Advisory Board since it was founded. The Harman Program funds the Jerome L. Schulman Memorial Poetry Prize, which was first offered in 2015, the year following Jerome L. Schulman’s death.
Professor Schulman remarked on the diversity of the winning poems in her prefatory remarks during the ceremony on Zoom. “Katherine Hernández’s poem is powerful and direct. Justine Galvan’s poem is about a health professional, and is a well-wrought villanelle. Evan Gordon’s is subtle and nuanced, as he writes of an object that reveals his deepest feeling. Zalmy Okunov’s poem is a memory of Israel. All four students are expert in their craft, achieving effects far beyond college level,” Schulman noted.
Grace Schulman’s Contribution to the World of Arts and Letters
In 2019, Professor Schulman was selected to become a member of the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Department of Literature, an honor held by only 250 people including composer Philip Glass, writer Toni Morrison, and architect I.M. Pei.
Schulman is the author of seven collections of poems. Her memoir, Strange Paradise: Portrait of a Marriage (Turtle Point Press, 2018), reflects on her 56-year marriage, along with her mentors and influencers both early and later in life.
Schulman has received honors including the Frost Medal for Distinguished Lifetime Achievement in American Poetry, the Aiken Taylor Award for poetry, the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, New York University’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and a Fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts. Additionally, she has won five Pushcart Prizes, and her work has appeared in numerous publications, including the Nation, the New Yorker and Poetry Daily.
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