2013 Third Place Winner Denise Burns, 2013 Second Place Winner Blessed Sheriff, and 2013 National Champion Langston Ward
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.
Click here to download the 2013 Program.