Washington State's Langston Ward is named Poetry Out Loud National Champion

Spokane, Washington high school student receives $20,000 award at Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest


Poetry Out Loud National Champion and Washington State Champion Langston Ward recites during the competition.

Poetry Out Loud National Champion and Washington State Champion Langston Ward recites during the competition. Photo by James Kegley. Download hi-res photo

Washington, DC -- Langston Ward, a high school senior from Spokane, Washington, has won the 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest. National Endowment for the Arts Deputy Chairman Patrice Walker Powell and Poetry Foundation Program Director Stephen Young announced the award at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals at Lisner Auditorium, The George Washington University in Washington, DC, last night.

Ward clinched the win with a stirring rendition of "The Bad Old Days" by Kenneth Rexroth. When asked why he chose the poem, he said "When I read it, the message that justice deserves attention, that's something I want to communicate. The poem was calling me."

As 2013 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Ward will receive a $20,000 award and his high school, Mead High School, will receive a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books.

Ward earned the top spot among nine finalists, who competed Tuesday evening. Those nine advanced from the Monday semifinals, in which 53 students representing every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands matched skills in reciting classic and contemporary poetry from Shakespeare to Brenda Cárdenas.

The Poetry Out Loud National Finals is the culmination of a pyramid-structure competition that began last September among schools across the country.  The nationwide poetry education program and competition involved more than 375,000 students and some 2,000 high schools across the country. Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Arts Endowment and the Poetry Foundation.

The second-place winner was the Maryland State Poetry Out Loud Champion Blessed Sheriff, a sophomore at Richard Montgomery High School and a resident of Gaithersburg, Maryland, who received a $10,000 award. The Oklahoma Champion, Denise L. Burns, a senior at Lawton High School in Lawton, Oklahoma, received the third place prize and a $5,000 award. Each of the nine finalists received at least a $1,000 award, and their schools received $500 each for the purchase of poetry books.

The other six finalists were: Illinois State Champion Rapheal K. Mathis, Plainfield East High School, Plainfield, Illinois; Minnesota State Champion Oluwatosin Oyeyemi Ajagbe, Woodbury High School, Woodbury, Minnesota; Nebraska State Champion Russell Heitmann, Thayer Central Community Schools, Hebron, Nebraska; New Jersey State Champion Kavita Oza, The Peddie School, Hightstown, New Jersey; Texas State Champion, Maria Jose Zuniga, Coppell High School, Coppell, Texas; US Virgin Islands Champion Josae Martin, Charlotte Amalie High School, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. For a full list of all 53 state finalists, visit

All of the Poetry Out Loud State Champions were accompanied by their State Arts Agency coordinators. All State Arts Agencies played a pivotal role in implementing Poetry Out Loud at more than 2,000 high schools nationwide.

The host for the event was Anna Deavere Smith, award-winning playwright, actress, and recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship Award. Guest judges were poets Patricia Smith and Eduardo Corral; BBC Correspondent Jane O'Brien; Kevin Dyels, director of the Interpreting Services Division of TCS Associates; and Tree Swenson, executive director of the Richard Hugo House in Seattle, Washington. The featured performer was Ben Sollee.

Celebrating the big win


Celebrating the big win, from L-R: NEA Deputy Chairman Patrice Walker Powell, second place winner Maryland State Champion Blessed Sheriff, third place winner, Oklahoma State Champion, Denise L. Burns, host Anna Deavere Smith, Poetry Out Loud National Champion and Washington State Champion Langston Ward, and Poetry Foundation Program Director Stephen Young. Photo by James Kegley Download hi-res photo

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

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

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 U.S. Virgin Islands, and Washington, DC compete at the National Finals. The Poetry Out Loud National Finals presented a total of $50,000 in awards and school stipends for the purchase of poetry books. Awards included $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 awards to the champion, runner up, and their schools.  In total, Poetry Out Loud awarded more than $100,000 to state- and national-level winners.

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.

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 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. 


Sally Gifford