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Prizes and Honors / Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize

Description. The Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize is awarded for the best unpublished poem or group of poems by an undergraduate student at University of California campuses, University of the Pacific, Mills College, Stanford University, Santa Clara University, and St. Mary's College. Each participating school may submit three entries to UC Berkeley to compete in the overall contest. For information regarding the submission instructions for other campuses, read Information for Other Participating Campuses below.

History of the Prize. On March 18, 1933, a fund of $1,000 contributed by various donors was offered to the Regents for a poetry prize in memory of Ina Coolbrith, Poet Laureate of the State of California. The Ina Coolbrith Memorial Fund was accepted by the Regents on May 11, 1933.

Please review the General Rules for Competitive Prizes (for Berkeley students).

Contest deadlines vary. Please check the Prizes and Honors home page for this prize's deadline.

About Ina Coolbrith

image of Ina Coolbrith

Ina Donna Coolbrith (1841-1928)

Born Josephine Donna Smith, oldest daughter of Don Carlos and Agnes Coolbrith Smith, in Nauvoo, Illinois, March 10, 1841, she entered California through the Beckwourth Pass in a covered wagon train in 1852. Her first poems were published in the Los Angeles Times in 1854. After a brief and tragic marriage at 17, and the death of her child, she moved in the 1860s to San Francisco, where she worked as a journalist on the Overland Monthly. Later she was librarian of the Mechanics Institute Library and the Bohemian Club library, and was the first librarian of the Oakland Public Library. She lost her San Francisco home and all her possessions in the earthquake and fire of 1906. Through the generosity of the best-known California writers of the day, another home was built on Russian Hill, where she lived until the infirmities of age led her to share the home of her niece in Berkeley in 1923. She died there on February 29, 1928.

Ina Coolbrith received many honors, including Poet Laureate of the State of California. She was the first person asked to write a Commencement Ode for the University of California and the first woman member of San Francisco's Bohemian Club. In 1924, Mills College awarded her an honorary Master of Arts degree; as a young woman she had attended Mills, known at the time as Benicia College for Women. On the day of her funeral the Legislature adjourned in her memory and afterward named a 7,900-foot peak near Beckwourth Pass "Mount Ina Coolbrith."

Ina Coolbrith corresponded with Tennyson, Whittier, Longfellow, and Lowell, and was close friends with Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Gertrude Atherton, Joaquin Miller, Charles Warren Stoddard, and William Keith. Jack London called her his "literary mother." Isadora Duncan recalled in her memoirs "the beauty and fire of the poet's eyes."

At the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in 1915 she was appointed President of the Congress of Authors and Journalists. At the Exposition a formal presentation of a laurel wreath was made to her by Dr. Benjamin Ide Wheeler, president of the University of California, and the Board of Regents, with the title "loved, laurel-crowned poet of California."

Some of Ina Coolbrith's most powerful poems were written after her 80th birthday. Her published works include A Perfect Day and Other PoemsSongs from the Golden Gate, and the posthumously published Wings of Sunset.

Information for Other Participating Campuses

Each participating campus may submit three entries selected from submissions on their campus. An entry may be a single poem or a group of poems. While the judging to select the overall contest winners rotates from campus to campus, each campus must first forward its entries to UC Berkeley by the contest deadline. The overall contest judge will receive the entries from Berkeley in early February and will be asked to select the contest winners by early March.

The poems need to be typewritten. Include the following information in the upper-right corner of each manuscript:

The last four digits of the student’s campus identification number

The name of the contest 

Write entrant information on a separate sheet and include the following:


Local address

Permanent address

Phone number

Email address

Last four digits of student’s campus identification number

Contest name

Title of poem(s)

Since manuscripts cannot be returned and may go astray in the mail, please retain a duplicate.

Winning manuscripts are filed in the University Archives at the Bancroft Library on the UC Berkeley campus.

Entries may be sent to:

Coordinator, Committee on Prizes 
Undergraduate Scholarships, Prizes, and Honors
210-A Sproul Hall #1964
University of California
Berkeley, CA 94720

(5l0) 642-3498

Previous Winners

2015-16: 1st prize: Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton, UC Berkeley ($500); 2nd prize: Conor MacKenzie Kelly, UC Santa Cruz ($300); 3rd prize: Taelor Ramos, Mills College ($200)

2014-15: 1st prize: Christian Gella, UC San Diego ($1,100); 2nd prize: Katherine Duckworth, Mills College, Antony Fangary, UC Davis, Michelle Felmlee-Gartner, St.Mary's College, and Nilufal Karimi, UC San Diego ($100 each)

2013-14: 1st prize: Claire Bresnahan, Mills College, and Terry Taplin, St. Mary's College ($200 each); 2nd prize: Zoe Goldstein, UCLA, and Olivia Mertz, Mills College ($150 each); 3rd prize: Sabrina Barreto, Santa Clara University, Andrew David King, UC Berkeley, and Desmond Vanderfin, St. Mary's College ($100 each)

2012-13: 1st prize: Jacquelin Balderrama, UC Riverside ($400); 2nd prize: Laura Isabella Sylvan, Santa Clara University ($300); 3rd prize: Sabrina Barreto, Santa Clara University, Molly LaFleur, UC Santa Cruz; and Jacob Minasian, St. Mary's College ($100 each)

2011-12: 1st prize: John Liles, UCSD ($300); 2nd prize: Danni Gorden, UC Berkeley, and Ainsley Kelly, Santa Clara University ($200 each); 3rd prize: Andrew David King, UC Berkeley, Gabriel Malikian, UCLA, April Peletta, UCLA, and Kevin Zambrano, UCSB ($75 each)

2010-11: 1st prize: Nathan McClain, UCLA ($400); 2nd prize: Todd McClintock, UC Davis ($300); 3rd prize: Lynn Wang, UC Irvine and Kazumi Chin, UC Riverside, ($150 each); UC Berkeley winners: Kathryn Hindenlang and Christine Deakers

2009-10: 1st prize: Wesley Holtermann, UCSB ($400); 2nd prize: Katrina Kaplan, UC Berkeley, and Briony Gylgayton, UC Davis ($150) each; 3rd prize: Angela Eun Ji Koh, UCI, Isabelle Avila, UC Merced, and Jared Sandusky-Alford, UC Berkeley, ($100 each)

2008-09: 1st prize: Steven Lance, UC Berkeley ($400); 2nd prize: Esteban Ismael Alvarado, UC Riverside, and Marianna Tekosky, UCLA ($200 each); 3rd prize: Eden Orlando, UCSC, and Kevin Eldridge, UC Riverside, ($100 each)

2007-08: 1st prize: Katie Quarles, UCSC ($300); 2nd R. XiXi Hu, UCLA ($200)

2006-07: Julia Jackson, Mills College ($500)

2005-06: Athena Nilssen, UCLA and Crystal Reed, UCSB ($200 each); Honorable Mention: Renee K. Nelson, UCSC ($100)

2004-05: 1st prize: Jennifer Liou, UCI ($250); 2nd prize: Neil Ferron, Santa Clara University ($150); 3rd prize: Laura Mattingly, UCSC ($100)

2003-04: 1st prize: Jamie Michele Gill, UC Davis, and Laura Wetherington, UC Berkeley ($150 each); 2nd prize: Olivia Friedman, UC Berkeley, and Tina Sohaili, UCI ($100 each)

2002-03: 1st prize: Amaranth Borsuk, UCLA ($300); 2nd prize: Christina Ross, UC Irvine ($200)

2001-02: 1st prize: Kristen Holden, UCSC ($250); 2nd prize: Pepper Luboff, UC Berkeley ($150); 3rd prize: Yasmin Golan, UC Berkeley ($100)

2000-01: 1st prize: Hannah Love, Mills College ($300), 2nd prize: Elsie Rivas, Santa Clara University ($200), Allyson Seal and John Cross, UCLA ($50 each)

1999-00: Francesca Hersh, UCSC, Maggi Michel, UCLA, Aeryn Seto, UC Berkeley, Virginia Whitney Weigand, UC Davis ($100 each)

1998-99: 1st prize: Gareth S. Lee, Santa Clara University, ($250); 2nd prize: Kristen Robertson, Mills College ($150); 3rd prize: Jasmine Donahaye, UC Berkeley ($100)

1997-98: 1st prize: Emma Marxer, Mills College ($150); 2nd prize: E. Tracy Grinnell, Mills College ($100); 3rd prize: Ronald Laran, UC Davis, Lisa Visendi, St. Mary's, and Shannon Welch, UCSC ($50 each); Honorable Mention: Laura-Marie Taylor, UCSB