Student from Water Valley High School Wins Poetry Out Loud State Finals

An emotional Shaniqua Wesley accepts her award after winning the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest. – Photo Provided

By Jack Gurner
Reporter

JACKSON – Shaniqua Wesley from Water Valley High School was the winner of the state finals of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest.

Wesley, a 17-year-old senior and National Merit Science Scholar, performed “It was not death, for I stood up” by Emily Dickinson in the final round of the competition held March 13 at Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson.

She will receive two hundred dollars and an all expense paid trip to Washington D.C. at the end of April to compete in the national contest. She also gets a five hundred dollar stipend for the WVHS library to purchase poetry books, according to Kathy True, head of the English Department at WVHS and lead teacher with the local Poetry Out Loud program.

“Everybody throughout the United States starts the way we do,” True said. “In each English class a student will choose a poem from the Poetry Out Loud website or from their anthology.”

“It’s not just getting up an saying it,” True emphasized. “It’s more performance than reciting.”

“I’ve been practicing forever and ever,” Wesley said after the competition. “I spent a lot of time doing it. And I appreciate my teacher so much. Cause he helped me so so so much.”

The teacher is Brad Hayden who has helped Wesley almost every afternoon during his free period, according to True. “He’s an excellent dramatist himself so he has worked with her. She has put in hours and hours toward this goal.”

“She is just fabulous. She has an ability to bring a poem across that is almost unheard of for someone her age,” True added. “She is an excellent student and works so hard. She has a part time job on the side, which for a senior getting ready for college is difficult to do. She manages to balance everything.”

Wesley competed last year as a junior and was second in the state. This is the third year WVHS has participated in the Poetry Out Loud program. One student is picked from each grade and competes locally to determine a school winner. That person then competes in regional competition in Oxford, according to True.

Wesley said that she became interested in recitation because of her involvement in acting. She played the wicked witch in Christmas in the Land of Oz last December and was also involved in Romeo and Julie presented last May.

She plans to attend the University of Mississippi with a major in psychology and minor in theatrical arts.

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Original News Release:

JACKSON — The Mississippi Arts Commission is proud to announce that Shaniqua Wesley from Water Valley High School was the winner of the State Finals of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest. 

The competition, presented in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, is part of a national program to encourage high school students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition. Shaniqua will be representing Mississippi at the National Finals in Washington D.C. on April  27-29, 2009.

 Shaniqua performed outstanding recitations of “Advice to a Prophet” by Richard Wilbur and “The Unknown Citizen” by W. H. Auden, at the statewide competition held on Friday, March 13, 2009 at Mississippi Public Broadcasting in Jackson .  In the final round, Shaniqua recited “It was not death, for I stood up” by  Emily Dickinson. Shaniqua, a senior at Water Valley High School, is a National Merit Science Scholar.  She is an accomplished poet and enjoys acting.  She plans to attend the University of Mississippi with a major in psychology and minor in theatrical arts.

 The runner-up this year was Millicent Kennedy, a senior at Mississippi School for the Arts in Brookhaven.  Millicent recited and “I go Back to May 1937,” by Sharon Olds  and “Conversation,” by Ai.  In the final round Millicent recited “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley.  Millicent, a visual arts major, enjoys reading and writing poetry.

 The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, bringing arts to all Americans and providing leadership in arts education.  Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Arts Endowment is the largest national funding organization of the arts.

The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine, is committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.  One of the largest literary organizations in the world, it exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.

The Mississippi Arts Commission is a state agency, funded by the Mississippi Legislature, the National Endowment for the Arts, The Wallace Foundation, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, The Phil Hardin Foundation, Donna & Jim Barksdale, The Mississippi Endowment for the Arts at the Community Foundation of Greater Jackson and other private sources. MAC is the official grants-making and service agency for the arts in Mississippi . The agency serves as an active supporter and promoter of arts in community life and in arts education. 

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