Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Winner — Annie Woodford for “Arena Chapel Stringband Ballad”

Shenandoah has announced that Annie Woodford, a community college teacher in Roanoke, Virginia, is the winner of this year’s $500 Graybeal-Gowen Poetry Prize for Virginia Writers.  Her poem “Arena Chapel Stringband Ballad” was selected by judge Joseph Bathanti, who read the poems printed out anonymously, says that the winning poem is “a rollicking, unabashedly passionate lyric invocation of Charlie Poole, an old-time banjo picker who led the North Carolina Ramblers.”  He continues, “It’s a ballad of yearning and recollection. an inventory of hand-to-mouth: what the fields bring forth, what they ultimately take back — and the sweet, ephemeral in-between of men and women — one mysterious woman in particular — who ‘walked the sharecroppers’ shacks — making music and love upon it.”

Other work by Woodford, a Bassett native, has been published previously in The Chattahochee Review, Word Riot, Prairie Schooner, Appalachian Journal and others.  Her first collection, Bootleg, is forthcoming from Groundhog Press later this year, and the contest-wining poem will appear in the fall issue of Shenandoah.

Bathanti also selected as runner-up “I Kept Some Keys as if the Teeth” by Darren Morris of Richmond.  Morris has published poems in American Poetry Review, New England Review, Southern Review, and Missouri Review, as well as the Best New Poets anthology from U VA.

Joseph Bathanti is former poet laureate of North Carolina (2012-2014) and recipient of the 2016 North Carolina Award for Literature.  He teaches at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.  He is also a frequent contributor to Shenandoah.

Details concerning next year’s contest are as yet unannounced, but they will appear this fall on Shenandoah’s website (



recent-meR. T. Smith has edited Shenandoah since 1995 and serves as Writer-in-Residence at Washington & Lee. His forthcoming books are Doves in Flight: 13 Fictions and Summoning Shades: New Poems, both due in 2017.