NOVA Students Win Poetry and Visual Arts Contests; Poet to Compete for State Title

March 20, 2024

NOVA is pleased to announce the winners of the first-ever Virginia Community College System (VCCS) Poetry & Visual Arts Competition!

"Bite My Tongue" by Abigail Warren

  • NOVA’s Poet Laureate Student is Katy Portillo, who won for her poem, “Where Do I Belong?”
  • NOVA’s Visual Art Luminary Student is Abigail Warren, who won for her wooden sculpture titled “Bite My Tongue.”

In February and March, participating students submitted original poetry and visual artworks interpreting the theme “I belong.” The program aimed to foster a sense of community and belonging both at NOVA and across the VCCS. Twenty of the 23 colleges in the VCCS participated in the inaugural year of the Poetry & Arts Competition, which was supported by the VCCS Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Culture.

Portillo, a sophomore majoring in liberal arts and specializing in English, said that being named  NOVA's Poet Laureate "has reignited [her] creativity, passion and identity as a writer." Her winning entry begins as follows:

I long for a sense of peace. I long for a place that no longer exists.
A place where my mind is emptied and my heart is warm.

Warren, also a sophomore, is majoring in visual art. About her winning sculpture, pictured below, she said, "I am just so grateful for the experience and very proud that someone saw and appreciated my art."

Visual Art Luminary Student Abigail Warren's winning "Bite My Tongue" sculpture.

Both Portillo and Warren were recognized at the college level, and Portillo will go on to compete for the chance to be named VCCS Poet Laureate at an event in Charlottesville on Saturday, April 6. On that day, college poetry winners from across the Commonwealth will gather at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s (PVCC) V. Earl Dickinson Fine and Performing Arts Center to give live readings of their original poems. A panel of distinguished judges will determine the overall winner of the competition based on the poets’ original work, private interviews and live performances.  

Select works of visual art from participating colleges will also be on display at PVCC on Saturday, April 6, and at the VCCS’s systemwide New Horizons conference in Roanoke the following week.

“The work of our students is wonderful,” said VCCS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer Carla Kimbrough. “I’m so grateful to college coordinators who organized the competitions at their colleges, and the judges at the college level who helped us find true gems of creativity in this inaugural event. We are so excited to showcase the message of belonging from our talented poets and visual artists from so many of our colleges at our April 6 event.”

With the support of Virginia Humanities, the winners from all 20 participating colleges will have their poetry and visual arts featured in a book to be published this summer. The Virginia Humanities grant also supported professional development for the college poet laureates and top visual artists.

Learn more about the April 6 event and register for free tickets here!


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