For Immediate Release

Poetry Foundation and NEA Announce Langston Ward as 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion

High school student receives $20,000 award in national poetry recitation contest

May 1, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC — From a competitive field of some 375,000 students nationwide, Langston Ward, a senior at Mead High School in Spokane, Washington, won the title of 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion at the National Finals held in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 30, 2013. With this achievement, Ward received a $20,000 award and his high school, Mead High School, received a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. 

The Poetry Out Loud National Finals were held at The George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. Ward was among nine finalists and 53 state champions from across the country who participated in the eighth national poetry recitation contest, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

A two-time Washington State Champion, Ward was also one of nine finalists competing for the national title last year. Ward’s final recitation yesterday evening was “The Bad Old Days,” a poem by Kenneth Rexroth. Ward also recited Walt Whitman’s “A March in the Ranks Hard-Prest, and the Road Unknown” and Li-Young Lee’s “The Gift” at the Tuesday evening finals. When asked about his future relationship with poetry, Ward said, “I’ll keep these poems with me forever, that much I know.”

The second-place winner in the 2013 Poetry Out Loud national competition was Blessed Sheriff of Rockville, Maryland, who received a $10,000 award. Denise L. Burns of Lawton, Oklahoma, received the third-place prize and a $5,000 award.

In addition, the 4th – 9th place finalists each received a $1,000 award, and their schools received $500 each for the purchase of poetry books. The other finalists were Rapheal Mathis (Plainfield, IL); Oluwatosin Oyeyemi Ajagbe (Woodbury, MN); Russell Heitmann (Hebron, NE); Kavita Oza (Hightstown, NJ); Maria Jose Zuniga (Coppell, TX); and Josae Martin (St. Thomas, Virgin Islands). A total of $50,000 was awarded Tuesday evening to the finalists and their schools.

Actor and playwright Anna Deavere Smith hosted the Poetry Out Loud National Finals and cellist Ben Sollee performed.

Guest judges presiding over the final rounds of competition on Friday night included poets Eduardo C. Corral and Patricia Smith; Kevin Dyels of First Chair Interpreted Productions, LLC; BBC journalist Jane O’Brien; and executive director of Richard Hugo House Tree Swenson. 

Guest judges evaluating recitations during the semifinal rounds on Monday included poets Fady Joudah and Simone Muench; Pink Line Project founder Philippa Hughes; Robert Casper of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress; Cave Canem Foundation executive director Alison Meyers, Barrelhouse poetry editor Dan Brady, and Andy Shallal, proprietor of the Busboys and Poets restaurant chain.

On April 29, 53 high school students—Poetry Out Loud champions from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands—recited poetry in three semifinal rounds based on geographic region. Nine students advanced to compete in the National Finals on April 30. Judges evaluated student performances on criteria including physical presence, articulation, evidence of understanding, level of difficulty, and accuracy. Students performed poems from the Poetry Out Loud print and online anthologies. The event was the culmination of a pyramid-structure competition that began last September in more than 2,255 high schools across the country. 

Poetry Out Loud seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by building on the resurgence of poetry as an oral art form, as seen in the slam poetry movement and the popularity of rap music among youth. Through Poetry Out Loud, students can master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Now in its eighth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry.

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Poetry Out Loud Partnerships
The National Finals are the culmination of efforts by many partners. As national partners, the NEA and the Poetry Foundation have contributed support for administration of the program, educational materials, and awards for both the state and national finals. State arts agencies have implemented the program in high schools nationwide and organized state competitions, often in collaboration with local arts organizations. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals are administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Schools interested in registering for the 2013-2014 Poetry Out Loud contest should contact their state arts agency. More information is available at poetryoutloud.org.

Educational Materials
The NEA and the Poetry Foundation provide free, standards-based curriculum materials for Poetry Out Loud, which include poetry anthologies containing more than 650 classic and contemporary poems, a teacher’s guide, video footage of performances from the National Finals, and audio tracks about the art of recitation. Schools are welcome to download these resources at poetryoutloud.org.

Contests and Awards
Using a pyramid structure, Poetry Out Loud started with classroom and school-wide activities and contests between September 2012 and February 2013. State contests were held by mid-March; the 53 champions of contests in every state, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC compete at the National Finals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals will present a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the purchase of poetry books. Awards include $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion, and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. At the state-level finals the champion, runner-up, and their schools received $1,000 in cash awards. In total, Poetry Out Loud will award more than $100,000 to state- and national-level winners.

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About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture. It exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience. The Poetry Foundation seeks to be a leader in shaping a receptive climate for poetry by developing new audiences, creating new avenues for delivery, and encouraging new kinds of poetry through innovative partnerships, prizes, and programs. For more information, please visit poetryfoundation.org.

About the National Endowment for the Arts
The National Endowment for the Arts was established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $4 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. The NEA extends its work through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector. To join the discussion on how art works, visit the NEA at arts.gov.

About Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation
Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation develops partnerships and programs that reinforce artists’ capacity to create and present work, advance access to and participation in the arts, and promote a more sustainable arts ecology.

Follow the Poetry Foundation and Poetry on Facebook at facebook.com/poetryfoundation or on Twitter @PoetryFound.

POETRY FOUNDATION | 61 West Superior St. | Chicago, IL 60611 | 312.787.7070 | Media Contact: Kristin Gecan, 312.799.8065; kgecan@poetryfoundation.org

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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