Nine Student Finalists Compete for $50,000 at 2012 Poetry Out Loud National Finals

Finals judges include the PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown, radio host Garrison Keillor, Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America, and poets Marilyn Chin and Major Jackson

May 15, 2012

WASHINGTON, DC — Nine high school students vie for the title of Poetry Out Loud National Champion and a $20,000 award at the Harman Center for the Arts, 610 F Street NW in Washington, DC tonight. The nine students advanced from yesterday’s semifinals, at which 53 students from every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, competed. Some 365,000 high school students participated in Poetry Out Loud contests in classrooms nationwide this year. A total of $50,000 will be awarded Tuesday evening to the finalists and their schools.

The nine finalists are:

Colorado State Champion Samuel Opoku (Thornton High School, Thornton, CO)
Iowa State Champion Gwen Morrison (Marshalltown High School, Marshalltown, IA)
Mississippi State Champion Kristen Dupard (Ridgeland High School, Ridgeland, MS)
Nebraska State Champion Russell Heitman (Thayer Central Community Schools, Hebron, NE)
North Carolina State Champion Jessica Kariisa (Raleigh Charter High School, Raleigh, NC)
Pennsylvania State Champion Daphnee R. McMaster (Reading High School, Reading, PA)
Utah State Champion MarKaye Hassan (Logan High School, Logan, UT)
Vermont State Champion Claude Mumbere (Burlington High School, Burlington, VT)
Washington State Champion Langston Ward (Mead High School, Spokane, WA)

During tonight’s competition, all nine finalists will compete in two rounds of recitation, presenting classic and contemporary poems by poets ranging from Alfred, Lord Tennyson to Toi Derricotte. The top three contestants will advance to recite a third poem, and the student with the highest scores from all three rounds will be named Poetry Out Loud National Champion. 

Featured speakers at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals producing artistic director of the Adventure Theatre, Michael J. Bobbitt; NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman; and Poetry Foundation President John Barr. National Finals guest judges are poets Marilyn Chin and Major Jackson, senior correspondent and regular co-anchor of the PBS NewsHour Jeffrey Brown, radio host Garrison Keillor, and executive director of the Poetry Society of America Alice Quinn.

The Poetry Out Loud National Finals take place Tuesday, May 15, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., at the Harman Center for the Arts, 610 F Street NW, Washington, DC. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals are free and open to the public; no tickets or reservations are required. The finals can be viewed remotely through a one-time-only live webcast.

Photo and interview opportunities with finalists are offered before the event from 6:00 to 6:30 p.m.; finalists and judges are also available onstage after the event, 9:15 to 9:45 p.m.

Video crews covering the Tuesday night National Finals must arrive by 6:45 p.m. to reserve a space.

FOLLOW: Poetry Out Loud on Twitter at @PoetryOutLoud and @NEAarts, hashtag #POLnews. For more information on the event and webcast, visit or call 202.682.5001. For more information on the program, visit

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Poetry Out Loud Partnerships
The Poetry Out Loud National Finals are the culmination of many partners' efforts. 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 next year’s Poetry Out Loud should contact their state arts agency. More information is available at

Poetry Out Loud Educational Materials
The NEA and the Poetry Foundation provide free, standards-based curriculum materials for use by participating schools. These materials include print and online 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

Contests and Awards
Using a pyramid structure, Poetry Out Loud starts with classroom and schoolwide activities and contests between September 2011 and February 2012. State contests were held by mid-March; the 53 champions of contests in every state, Puerto Rico, the US 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. Each state-level final has awarded $1,000 in cash to the champion, runner-up, and their schools. In total, Poetry Out Loud will award more than $100,000 to state- and national-level winners.


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. Opened to the public in June 2011, the Poetry Foundation building in Chicago provides new space for the Foundation’s extensive roster of public programs and events. It also houses a public garden, a library, and an exhibition gallery, as well as the offices of the Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine. For more information, please visit

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

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 or on Twitter @PoetryFound.

POETRY FOUNDATION | 61 W. Superior St. | Chicago, IL 60611 | 312.787.7070 | Media Contact: Stephanie Hlywak, 312.799.8016;


What People are Saying

"I found it especially rewarding to see how positively each student embraced the total experience. Clearly they were having a great time and one that would last a lifetime!"
Alison Schaeffler-Murphy
FL POL Coordinator