Tombasco’s collection of poems, Milk for Gall, will be published by Southern Indiana Review Press in fall 2024

Natalie Tombasco, who graduated from the College of Staten Island with a BA in English in 2014, has been awarded the Michael Waters Poetry Prize by the Southern Indiana Review Press, an award that carries with it the publication of her complete work, Milk for Gall, to debut in fall 2024. Currently a PhD candidate at Florida State University, Tombasco found her call to poetry as an undergraduate at CSI, where she also played for four years for the Women’s Soccer program.

The Michael Waters Poetry Prize was established in 2013 to honor poet and editor Michael Waters and his contributions to Southern Indiana Review and U.S. arts and letters. Waters is the final judge of the award, which carries a $5,000 prize and publication by SIR Press of the poet’s complete work. Tombasco was blown away by the honor.

“I’m utterly floored to be this year’s recipient of the prize,” Tombasco said. “Southern Indiana Review is a dream press, as they’ve published books by Ruth Awad, Chelsea Woodard, and so many other poets I’m honored to be among. Some of the poems are nearly eight years old so I’m excited to finally share them.”

Tombasco admits that her road to poetry was unconventional. An athlete her entire life, she admits to sometimes struggling in school, as soccer was her primary focus growing up. It was no different at CSI, but an injury forced her to miss significant time on the field, and that’s when writing became more than just a hobby. “I’ve always been kind of an intense person and the focus of that intensity was always as an athlete. So, when I didn’t have soccer, I went through a bit of an identity crisis,” she said. “I began to channel that obsessive joy I had for soccer toward my writing life. In the literature and creative writing classes at CSI, I found a craft that required routine practice much like any sport. Instead of clocking in time at the weight room or track, one must spend hours and hours at the desk tinkering away. Writing and soccer share the art of failure. Not every shot ends up in the back of the net.”

Thanks to professors like Cate Marvin, Tyehimba Jess, and Ava Chin, Tombasco started to hone in on her writing more, gaining new perspectives on different writing styles, and possibly pursuing creative writing post-graduation. Even then, poetry was not really a focus until Tombasco took a class with Prof. Marvin. “I never really associated with it,” Tombasco said of poetry. “It was mostly just in Cate’s class, but I remember her saying to me once, ‘I think you’re a poet.’ She is like one of my poetry moms. She could give really tough love but she always told you what she thought and you needed to have a thick skin. I needed that relationship. She gave me the courage to know that I could do it, giving me that safety of the classroom to explore and challenge my professors, and myself.”

It was enough to inspire Tombasco to pursue creative writing beyond her undergraduate degree. She ultimately landed in the MFA program at Butler University in Indiana, allowing her to build on poetry further. “The program at Butler had a visiting writer program that introduced me to poets like Diane Seuss, Yusef Komunyakaa, and Danez Smith. It also gave me time at the teacher’s desk,” she said. After completing her degree, Tombasco returned to Staten Island, and after a year off from study, she returned to the classroom to pursue her PhD in Poetry at FSU, minoring in Feminism and Gender Studies. This is when Tombasco started thinking about publishing some of her work.

“I was writing a lot and I started to submit a lot of my work to different publications and for different awards,” she said. “I felt like I had a good collection of material and I was a finalist for a few awards in the past, so it feels great to be recognized now with the Michael Waters Poetry Prize.”

Tombasco is in the home stretch of her PhD studies, having recently completed her preliminary exams. She admits it’s been a rigorous time, but she is proud of her latest work, a collection of poems she entitled Milk for Gall, a line taken from William Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth.

“Shakespeare is such a central figure in poetry because a lot of writers will either challenge or pay homage to some of the themes in his writing,” she explained. “Lady Macbeth renounces the maternal or pure qualities associated with womanhood in order to exist within a male-dominated game of political power. Milk for Gall questions obligatory sexualities, gender roles, and considers the exchanges demanded of women in a patriarchal and capitalist society. There are also poems that are immersed in the landscape of Staten Island and Italian American identity.”

Tombasco is currently working with the publishers on Milk for Gall, and the finalization of her work for entry, which is expected to be about 80 pages.

“It’s honestly a dream come true,” she said. “It’s a chance to showcase my work and build momentum for the future. I look forward to participating in readings. I’m very excited and humbled by the entire process.”

In the meantime, Tombasco plans to complete her PhD and hopes to get back on Staten Island soon to thank her former mentors. “Whatever I imagined I could do started at CSI,” she said. “I am truly grateful to have had an environment in the humanities at CSI that allowed me, as a first-generation college student, to participate in discourses about literature that challenged how I viewed the world around me politically, culturally, and ideologically.”

To follow Natalie Tombasco and learn more about Milk for Gall, visit her Website at