National Endowment for the Arts Announces Winner of Washington Finals for National Poetry Recitation Contest
Benjamin Banneker High School senior Stephanie Oparaugo combines personal history and interpretive skills for winning performance
April 20 , 2005
Washington, DC - Looking a little surprised and very excited, Nigerian-born Banneker High scholar, Stephanie Oparaugo stepped forward last night to accept the title of Washington Regional Champion in the first-ever National Endowment for the Arts National Poetry Recitation Contest. Her impressive win, among a field of talented students from high schools across the District, Northern Virginia, and Rockville, Md., was the result of applying her own life experience with her love of language and strong interpretative skills.
"It still feels surreal," said Oparaugo, who recited "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats, along with "Jabberwocky" by Lewis Carroll and "The River Merchant's Wife: A Letter" by Li Po translated by Ezra Pound. Oparaugo noted her personal connection with "The Second Coming." The poem's central line, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold" provided the title for the groundbreaking novel Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe, which describes the colonization of a region in Nigeria from the perspective of an Ibo warrior. "Because I'm Nigerian, I had to do it," Oparaugo noted.
Oparaugo was one of ten students from middle and high schools in the Washington area who showcased their skills on Tuesday night at the Folger Shakespeare Library. An all-star panel of judges presided over the contest, including the Honorable James P. Moran, Virginia 8th Congressional District; E. Ethelbert Miller, poet and director of the African American Resource Center at Howard University; and Folger Shakespeare Library Director Gail Kern Paster.
The championship event was the culmination of a pilot program sponsored by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation to encourage the nation's youth to learn about great poetry. During the 2004-2005 school year, the NEA coordinated a pilot program in Washington area schools. In the program, participating students received two poetry anthologies and an original audio CD featuring readings and commentary by well-known writers and actors. Participating teachers received a guidebook with contest guidelines and tips on teaching poetry memorization and recitation. In Washington, more than 4,000 students have participated in a series of classroom and schoolwide recitation contests leading up to the regional finals at the Folger Shakespeare Library. At the finals, judges evaluated students' recitations for factors such as inflection, presence, evidence of understanding, and accuracy.
"By performing great works of literature, students can master public-speaking, build self-confidence, and learn more about their literary heritage," said Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
In conjunction with the Washington, DC program, the Poetry Foundation managed a similar program and regional competition among Chicago-area high schools, which culminated with an April 11th recitation event at Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Oparaugo, who received a $1,000 cash award, plans to use her prize toward her enrollment at The College of William and Mary College in Virginia. Her high school will receive a $2,000 stipend for poetry books. The two runners-up were Jamairais Malone, a senior at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, and Brian Eberly, a junior at Wakefield High School in Arlington, Va. Each runner-up received $500, and their schools received $1,000 for poetry books.
The NEA and partners will evaluate the pilot program from Washington DC and Chicago later this year. The resulting standards-based curriculum will be made available to high school students nationwide in 2006.
The National Poetry Recitation Contest pilot program is being administered by the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, which celebrates, promotes, and supports the richness and diversity of the region's arts resources, and works to increase access to the arts and cultures of the region and the world.
Washington-area student finalists
The student finalists in the Washington Regional Finals for the National Poetry Recitation Contest were: Stephanie Oparaugo, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, Washington, DC; Portia Williams, Bell Multicultural High School, Washington, DC; Jamairais Malone, Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Washington, DC; Kelli Marshall, Wilson High School, Washington, DC; Myesha Berger, Seed Public Charter School, Washington, DC; Brian Eberly, Wakefield High School, Arlington, VA; Halle Ritter, Washington-Lee High School, Arlington, VA; Ellis Hooper, H.B. Woodlawn Secondary Program, Arlington, VA; Elizabeth Wagner, Yorktown High School, Arlington, VA; and Nicholas Fowler, The Avalon School, Rockville, MD.
About the Poetry Foundation
The Poetry Foundation is an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in American culture. The Foundation publishes Poetry magazine, sponsors a variety of public programs, and supports creative projects in literature.
For further information on the National Poetry Recitation Contest, or the National Endowment for the Arts, contact the NEA Office of Communications at 202-682-5570 or visit www.arts.gov.
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The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts - both new and established - bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases.
National Endowment for the Arts · an independent federal agency