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Kansas poetry champ shoots for national crown

Apr 30, 2019

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Topeka, Kan. – 2017 Poetry Out Loud State Champion Khadija Ceesay from Olathe South High School is competing today in the regional semifinals of the National Poetry Out Loud Competition, with a chance to advance to Wednesday’s final competition.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation is welcoming high school students from across the country to Washington, D.C., for the Poetry Out Loud competition and chance to win a $20,000 grand prize. The 53 competitors represent every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and have advanced from a field of more than 275,000 students who participated in the program nationwide this year. Now in its 14th year, Poetry Out Loud encourages students to engage with great poetry through a dynamic recitation competition.

“Recent research from the National Endowment for the Arts reveals that for the first time in 15 years, poetry reading is on the rise, particularly among young adults,” Mary Anne Carter, acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said. “Anyone watching a Poetry Out Loud recitation — whether it’s in a classroom or at the national finals — won’t be surprised by this news. It’s always inspiring to see students connect with poems and deliver recitations that display both confidence and understanding of the power of poetry.”

A total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends will be awarded at the national finals, including $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion, and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. The Poetry Foundation provides and administers all aspects of the monetary prizes awarded and travel arrangements for Poetry Out Loud.

“Connecting students to poetry through the engaging format of recitation brings fresh energy, and interest to this timeless art form,” Henry Bienen, president of the Poetry Foundation, said. “The Poetry Out Loud program offers a direct extension of our mission to celebrate poetry, and foster interest among the next generation of poetry readers, and writers.”

The top nine finalists (three from each semifinal round) will advance to the finals Wednesday at Lisner Auditorium. Poet, author, and 2018 National Book Award recipient Elizabeth Acevedo will return for the fourth year as host of the National Finals, which also will include a performance by Kansas City-based mother/son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear.

Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the state arts agencies. Since 2005, 3.8 million students from 16,000 high schools nationwide have participated in the program. For schools that choose to participate, the program starts in the classroom, where teachers may use the Poetry Out Loud toolkit to teach poetry recitation and run classroom competitions. Students select, memorize and recite poems from an anthology of more than 1,000 classic and contemporary poems. Winners advance from the classroom to the school-wide competition, then to the state competition, and ultimately to the national finals in Washington, D.C. The Poetry Out Loud national finals are administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation. More information about the program and how to participate is available at

Schools and organizations that wish to organize a viewing party of some or all the competition can visit for tips on hosting a viewing party and details on other viewing parties around the country, and join the conversation on Twitter and Instagram using #POL19.

Both days of the competition will be available through a live, one-time-only webcast via the NEA website at this link.