Congratulations to 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Isabella Callery!

By Paulette Beete
Isabella Callery recites on stage at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals
2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion Isabella Callery. Photo by James Kegley

"This has made me realize there's a poem for everyone." — Isabella Callery, 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion

Congratulations to Minnesota high school senior Isabella Callery (Anishinaabe), the 2019 Poetry Out Loud National Champion. Callery, who attends Arcadia Charter School, earned top honors with her moving recitations of poems by Joy Harjo, Natalie Diaz, and Charles Lamb. She garnered a $20,000 award for taking the top prize among the more than 275,000 student-competitors nationwide who participated in the program this year. Second and third place went to Illinois' Scottlynn Ernestine Ballard, a junior at Edwardsville Senior High School, and Georgia's Alejandro J. Campo, a junior at Flowery Branch High School, respectively.
Callery has competed in Poetry Out Loud since her freshman year of high school. While she has made it to the state finals every year, this was her first trip to the national finals. She attributed her success to the deep connection she felt to her poems, two of which are by indigenous poets. She explained, "Being able to find a huge variety of Native-American poets and having someone who represents you makes a difference. [You are] able to connect to your poems on a really deep level." Callery will head to Wisconsin in the fall to attend college. While she hasn't quite decided on a major yet, her goal is to eventually work as a juvenile rehabilitation therapist. She also plans to make sure that poetry and the arts continue to play an important role in her life. She noted that participating in Poetry Out Loud has made her feel empowered and happy. And most important, the competition has shown her that poetry can have an important place in everyone's life. "This has made me realize there's a poem for everyone.... You will find yourself in a poem and you will feel a connection to it that's more beautiful than you can imagine," she said. The 53 state champions competing at the National Finals also had the opportunity to showcase their creativity through an optional competition, Poetry Ourselves. Students who opted to participate submitted an original work of poetry in one of two categories: either a written poem or a video of a spoken poem. As selected by poet Kyle Dargan, this year's Poetry Ourselves judge, the winner for the written category is Evan Reynolds from Connecticut for his poem, “Ode to Rhubarb.” Hawaii’s Maggie Odom is the runner-up for her poem “kiss thru osmosis.” The winner in the spoken category is Daeja Loew from Wisconsin for her poem, “A Circle of Motherhood.” North Carolina’s Lillian Hawkins is the runner-up in the spoken category for her poem, “Sisters.”  This is the 14th year that the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation's youth to learn about great poetry—both classic and contemporary—through memorization and recitation.This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Visit to learn more about the program. The Poetry Foundation provides and administers all aspects of the monetary prizes awarded and travel arrangements for Poetry Out Loud.