National Endowment for the Arts Announces 2008 National Winner of Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest
United States Virgin Islands Champion Shawntay Henry wins in national poetry competition
April 30, 2008
Washington, DC -- With a fan club including family, friends, her English teacher, poetry coach, and members of the Virgin Islands Council on the Arts, 16-year-old Shawntay A. Henry of the United States Virgin Islands captured the audience with her poetry recitations and received the title of 2008 Poetry Out Loud National Champion. Along with her title, Henry receives a $20,000 scholarship prize and her high school, Charlotte Amalie High School will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals were held last night at the George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington, DC. Henry was among 12 finalists and 52 state champions from around the country who participated in the third national poetry recitation contest, sponsored by the National Arts Endowment and the Poetry Foundation.
"Poetry was never something I thought I'd get involved with, but I realized I had a hidden talent," said Henry, a 10th grader from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Henry capped her performance with a thoughtful recitation of "Frederick Douglass" by Robert E. Hayden. This was the first year that the U.S. Virgin Islands participated in the Poetry Out Loud program. Henry advanced to National Champion from a field of competition that involved more than 1,500 high schools and 200,000 high school students across the country.
The second-place winner was Sophia Elena Soberon of Brookings-Harbor High School in Brookings, Oregon, who received a $10,000 scholarship prize. The Utah State Champion, Madison Niermeyer, of Skyline High School in Salt Lake City, Utah, received the third place prize and a $5,000 scholarship. In addition, each of the top 12 finalists received a $1,000 scholarship prize. The twelve finalists' schools received $500 each for the purchase of poetry books.
The other 12 finalists include Elijah P. Orengo of Georgia; Sequoia J. Jelks of Indiana; Gabrielle C. Guarracino of Massachusetts; Charles White of Michigan; Allison Strong of New Jersey; Hannah JoBeth Roark of Oklahoma; Elsa Vande Vegte of South Dakota; BreAnna Jones of Washington State; and Carolyn Rose Garcia of West Virginia.
Special guest judges presided over the competition, including Garrison Keillor, host of the radio show "A Prairie Home Companion;" Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Natasha Trethewey, novelist and journalist Leslie Schwartz, Poetry Daily editor Don Selby, 2007 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Amanda Fernandez, and memoirist, activist, and poet Luis Rodriguez. Scott Simon, host of National Public Radio's Weekend Edition, served as master of ceremonies.
On April 28, 52 high school students – Poetry Out Loud champions from every state, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands – competed in three semifinal rounds based on geographic region. Twelve students advanced to compete in the National Finals on April 29. 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 (www.poetryoutloud.org). The event was the culmination of a pyramid-structure competition that began last September among schools across the country.
The National Finals are the result of efforts by many partners. The NEA and the Poetry Foundation have contributed support for administration of the program, educational materials, and prizes for both the state and National Finals. Each State Arts Agency implemented the program in high schools in each state, often in collaboration with local arts organizations. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals was administered by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
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 third year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud has inspired thousands of high school students to discover classic and contemporary poetry. To find out how to get involved in the 2009 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest, visit www.poetryoutloud.org.
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