We are so excited to host the Your Authentic Self poetry contest as part of our 2021 Fox Cities Reads. If you missed our summary of 2021 Reads events and announcement date, you can find that on our blog here.

Today we have some special information on the judges for the Your Authentic Self poetry contest. But first, if you haven’t yet submitted your poem, bookmark or use this Google Forms link to submit your poem now. To compete, poems must be submitted by midnight on Monday, January 18, 2021.

Your Authentic Self poetry contest judges

We have a great line up of local poets to judge contest submissions. We are grateful for the art they create in our community and grateful for the support they lend to the Fox Cities Book Festival. Our judges: Louis Clark, Cathryn Cofell, Andrew McSorley, Nik Shier, Wayne Swanger, Goachi Vang, and Salina Xiong.

Please take some time to read what they look for in their ideal contest submission and visit their websites to learn more about them.

Cathryn Cofell

What I look for in poetry: Concrete images. Show me, don’t tell me. Avoid cliches! Get beyond the surface to what lies underneath.
Who my authentic self is and how I showcase this: My authentic self is a split personality — career-driven but also an artist at heart; a super-high energy life of the party but someone who likes to chill with a book more than just about anything else; I’m goofy but serious; full of snarky humor but can cry on a dime. Definitely flawed, but an aspiring perfectionist. I wear my heart on my sleeve and almost always have a song on my lips (I’m a failed musician).  All these things come out in my poetry — some of it very serious, some of it like a pinball machine.

Andrew McSorley


About me: Andrew McSorley is the author of What Spirits Return (Kelsay Books, 2019). He is a graduate of the MFA program in creative writing at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. His poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and has appeared in journals such as The Minnesota Review, Blue Earth Review, Gamut Magazine, Gingerbread House Literary Magazine, SOFTBLOW, Rougarou, Cobalt Review, After the Pause, and the Lindenwood Review. He lives in Appleton, Wisconsin where he works as a librarian in the Seeley G. Mudd Library at Lawrence University.

What I look for in poetry: I want to be surprised, and I especially like to see care taken in language. The poems I like best often have emotionally-charged images, but also sounds.

Nik Shier

What I look for in poetry: I’m drawn to poetry that vibrates, either on its own or inside of me or in the air between listeners.  The kind that moves, on the page or as it travels through vocal cords.  And leaves a visceral or physical impact, like a gasp, or a mmm-hmm, or goosebumps.  The kind that asks questions or says things we’re not supposed to say.  I want to hear or read work that asks the reader to pay attention and to be present.  Some of the best poetry I’ve ever come across is crafted by children learning how to use language, before they understand the constraints of grammar and sentence structure.  Multiculturally, it’s important to me that venues and poets understand the ways oral traditions of song, storytelling, and communication shaped poetry while remembering that this has always included deaf poets and audience members, too.
Who my authentic self is and how I showcase this: My authentic self is always two things: constantly changing and connected to community.  I cannot be the most authentic version of myself if I’m not willing to grow and adapt and be present with myself and my surroundings, and I cannot do any of those things if I’m not connected to community and nurturing caring, mutual relationships. It’s my experience that authentic relationships require us to ask the most uncomfortable questions of ourselves, and of our society, and our response to those questions is a large piece of what shapes who we are.  Everything else I am and do, authentically, stems from these connections.

Gaochi Vang

What I look for in poetry: I look for vulnerable moments. By this, I mean that I seek pieces that open the space for the writer to be transparent with their experiences, pieces that allow a writer to explore growth, and pieces that hold truth to who the writer is – even if it is hard to pen down on paper.

Who my authentic self is and how I showcase this: When I think of my authentic self, I think of being a Hmong American woman. With these intersectional identities, I continue to be met with challenges that make me question who I am, who I want to be, and what it all may be teaching me. Yet, the one thing that has really led me to where I should be at any point in my life is what happiness looks like to me, at that time. It changes, but I always find it by continuously asking myself where happiness is within myself, who I feel happiness with, where may happiness be leading me, and how was I able to reach this happiness. This last point always brings me back to my identities. And it is within these identities that I have found happiness in before I can continue to grow. For that, my authentic self always comes back to my roots and how it has molded my values and morals.

Salina Xiong

Website: salinantsaiab.com

Social Media: https://www.facebook.com/salinantsaiab, IG: @salina_ntsaiab @thoughtstotheuniverse

About Me: Salina Ntsa Iab Xiong, is a Hmoob-American fashion designer and writer. She is a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she got her B.S. in Textiles and Fashion Design. Salina has always enjoyed writing but found a passion for poetry and prose in her early college years. In March 2019, she self-published a poetry book titled “thoughts to the universe”. The book is a collection of poetry written over the course of her life. Themes include but are not limited to love, identity, and her journey with her mental health. You can purchase her book on Amazon or directly through her website.

Who my authentic self is and how I showcase this: “Your authentic self” to me means being open and vulnerable. It’s peeling back the layers and looking within to find who you are beyond what everyone else made you think you are. It’s reclaiming your identity. Authenticity is what connects us as humans and allows us to see that we are not alone in everything that we’re going through.

Check out poetry books by our judges: