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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

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The Tom Lee Poetry Contest is now open!

High school students in Shelby County are encouraged to enter original poetry and spoken word pieces inspired by Tom Lee’s heroism, courage, kindness, selflessness and generosity.

The deadline to submit original work is March 31.

Tom Lee (Photo courtesy of Memphis River Parks Partnership.)

Lee was an African-American river worker who, on May 8, 1925, courageously rescued 32 people from drowning in the Mississippi River. He pulled each passenger into his small skiff boat, called the Zev, and took them back to shore as the much larger vessel, the M.E. Norman, began to capsize.

A non-swimmer, Lee said of his heroic and selfless acts, “I guess I didn’t do any more than anyone else would have in my place.”

Tom Lee Park along the Memphis riverfront is named in Lee’s honor.

This 2006 creation by David Alan Clark depicts the heroics of Tom Lee. (Photo:
Memphis River Parks Partnership.)

Students who enter the Tom Lee Poetry Contest will compete for a cash prize, a chance to perform at the official Tom Lee Day celebration (May 8th) and have an opportunity to professionally record their work.

The prizes:

  • 1st place – $300, performance at Tom Lee Day, a recording opportunity;
  • 2nd place – $200, performance at Tom Lee Day, a recording opportunity;
  • 3rd place – $100, performance at Tom Lee Day, a recording opportunity.

Teachers of the winning students will also receive a gift card in the same amount as the winner!

The contest is a collaboration involving the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation (project funder), Memphis River Parks Partnership (contest host), Memphis Shelby County Schools (English teachers and students), Orpheum Theatre Group’s Community Education and Community Engagement Department (advisors and workshop hosts), University of Memphis Associate Professor and author Marcus Wicker (competition judge), and descendants of Tom Lee.

Students can learn more about the official rules and submit their entries here.

With Tom Lee Park being upgraded as part of the transformation of the Memphis Riverfront, the riverfront location for the Tom Lee Day celebration will be announced ahead of May 8th date.

The contest organizers “hope that high school students will come to learn more about Tom Lee’s legacy and carry the banner of his selflessness forward….”

“A Very Worthy Hero” by Sebastian Carson serves as a guidepost for original work inspired by Lee’s heroics. Carson was commissioned to create the work for the inaugural Tom Lee Day in 2019.

(To enter the Tom Lee Poetry Contest, enter here.)


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