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Janae Claxton is Poetry Out Loud national champ

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 26 April 2018

  • Janae Claxton of First Baptist Church School in Charleston wins in Washington
  • State’s first back-to-back champ adds national honors, $20,000 prize
WASHINGTON – Last night in Washington, a Charleston student became the first South Carolinian to win the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud recitation competition and its $20,000 prize. [caption id="attachment_34999" align="alignright" width="250"] SCAC Executive Director Ken May and Janae Claxton celebrate her national championship after the competition. Credit James Kegley/NEA.[/caption] Janae Claxton, a senior at First Baptist Church School, made history already this year in March by becoming the state’s first back-to-back Poetry Out Loud state competition winner. On Tuesday, she added another first to her résumé as the first South Carolina student to advance out of round one of the national finals. By Wednesday night, she was winding down her high school experience as the competition’s national champion. She’ll bring the honor – and its $20,000 prize – back to the Palmetto State, which has offered the Poetry Out Loud competition since she was in first grade. Claxton recited “The Gaffe” by C.K. Williams and “A Satirical Elegy on the Death of a Late Famous General” by Jonathan Swift before clinching the top score from the judges with Sharon Olds’ “I Go Back to May 1937.” “[Poetry Out Loud] really does change your life. It really does have that power. For me, it changed my identity, made me see myself differently [and realize] I’m smart, I’m intelligent, I can do this,” Claxton said. “We are so proud of Janae and her historic win—our first national finalist and first national champion. She was absolutely amazing! We are also proud of South Carolina’s Poetry Out Loud program, which involves 7,500 students from 35 schools in 14 counties. We hope that this exciting win will encourage even greater statewide participation,” South Carolina Arts Commission Executive Director Ken May said. Nicholas Amador of Hawaii was first runner-up and Hope Stratman of Nebraska was second runner-up. Photos and videos of the nine finalists who competed in the April 25 finals are available here. Students and schools received $50,000 in awards and school stipends at the National Finals, including $20,000 for the Poetry Out Loud National Champion, and $10,000 and $5,000 for the second- and third-place finalists. The fourth- to ninth-place finalists each received $1,000. The schools of the top nine finalists received $500 for the purchase of poetry books. Poetry Out Loud is a national initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the Poetry Foundation and the state arts agencies. Its national finals took place at George Washington University Lisner Auditorium in Washington. The event host was poet and author Elizabeth Acevedo. Guest judges included Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center at the Library of Congress; Lavina Jadhwani, Chicago-based theater director; Robin Coste Lewis, poet and National Book Award winner; Dawn Lundy Martin, poet and professor at the University of Pittsburgh; and Virgil Suárez, poet and professor of at Florida State University. The featured performer was musician Kaia Kater.
JANAE CLAXTON, 2018 POETRY OUT LOUD NATIONAL CHAMPION “[Poetry Out Loud] really does change your life. It really does have that power. For me, it changed my identity, made me see myself differently [and realize] I’m smart, I’m intelligent, I can do this.” KEN MAY, SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISION EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR “We are so proud of Janae and her historic win—our first national finalist and first national champion. She was absolutely amazing! We are also proud of South Carolina’s Poetry Out Loud program, which involves 7,500 students from 35 schools in 14 counties. We hope that this exciting win will encourage even greater statewide participation.” ROBIN GRAMLING, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH SCHOOL ENGLISH TEACHER “When you enter the world of poetry, dream big!! Janae Claxton showed us last night a grace and elegance that was transcendent. When she spoke, the hush in the room was palpable. Janae proved the truth of the poet. A word is indeed not dead when it is said ...but begins to live in unimaginable ways. Thank you Poetry Out Loud for helping resurrect the world with words!” ZURI WILSON-SEYMORE, SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISION POETRY OUR LOUD PROGRAM COORDINATOR “I'm overjoyed with excitement for Janae Claxton and this historic moment for poetry in South Carolina.”
ABOUT POETRY OUT LOUD Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Since 2005, Poetry Out Loud has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 schools in every state, Washington, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. For information, visit PoetryOutLoud.org. For information about Poetry Out Loud in South Carolina, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com.   ABOUT THE SOUTH CAROLINA ARTS COMMISSION The South Carolina Arts Commission is the state agency charged with creating a thriving arts environment that benefits all South Carolinians, regardless of their location or circumstances. Created by the South Carolina General Assembly in 1967, the Arts Commission works to increase public participation in the arts by providing services, grants, and leadership initiatives in three areas:
  • arts education,
  • community arts development,
  • and artist development.
Headquartered in Columbia, S.C., the Arts Commission is funded by the state of South Carolina, by the federal government through the National Endowment for the Arts and other sources. For more information, visit SouthCarolinaArts.com or call (803) 734-8696.   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 $5 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. Visit Arts.gov for additional information.   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 has embarked on an ambitious plan to bring the best poetry before the largest possible audiences. Visit PoetryFoundation.org for more information.

Zuri Wilson-Seymore named Poetry Out Loud coordinator

The South Carolina Arts Commission welcomes Zuri Wilson-Seymore as the new part-time Poetry Out Loud coordinator. Wilson-Seymore will work with teachers and schools participating in Poetry Out Loud and coordinate competitions with regional and state partners. A Columbia native, Wilson-Seymore is a poet, yogi, actress and community activist. In 2000, she studied theater at Stony Brook University in Long Island, NY, and received her bachelor’s degree in theatre with an emphasis in performance arts from Winthrop University in 2001. She completed her thesis for her masters in Creative Writing with an emphasis on poetry at Southern New Hampshire University in 2016. She is working on a poetry chap book and on a book of poetry titled Nekot Cookie Crumbles: A Daughter remembering her Father, dedicated to her late father, Barry Wilson. Wilson-Seymore has appeared in a sitcom, a soap opera and a commercial and recently booked her first major voice over with G.E.M. Studios. Wilson-Seymore has collaborated with the Richland Library to direct and co-produce the African American History Month Productions of Voices of Our People and has worked with the City of Columbia and C.A. Johnson High School to improve the literacy of youth through writing and poetry workshops. In addition, Wilson-Seymore has facilitated Poetry Meets Screenwriting Workshops for USC's Media Department. Wilson-Seymore is the founder and executive director of the cultural arts event Zuri’s Parallel Worlds, which included poetry, theater, song, dance, visual art, music, deejaying, and drumming. The organization went on a sabbatical in October 2008 and re-launched in August 2011 as a band.  Wilson-Seymore released her debut album, Zuri’s Parallel Worlds, in August 2007 and directed the video for the single, She. The Arts Commission partners with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation to bring Poetry Out Loud to South Carolina high schools. The program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry—recitation and performance. Poetry Out Loud begins at the classroom level, with winners from each classroom advancing to a school-wide competition and then to regional competitions. Regional winners advance to South Carolina's statewide competition. Ultimately, one student from each state will compete in the national finals in Washington, D.C.