Shakira Cross, 2018 Missouri State Champion, Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest

Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest

Shakira Cross, Missouri State Champion, 2018 Poetry Out Loud

On April 23, 2018, Shakira Cross took off from Columbia, Missouri, for Washington, D.C., to embark on the national finals of the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest.

As Missouri state champion, Ms. Cross vied for the title of national champion with the 52 other state and territorial champions. She won her Missouri championship at the state finals in Jefferson City on March 7. She rose to this top spot from more than 4,000 other Missouri high school students who competed in a pyramid structure of contests starting at the classroom level, then school-wide, then regional. A 17-year-old senior at Hickman High School, Ms. Cross was the champion of the Missouri Central Region. Her persistence had paid off: she was also the Central Region’s champion in 2016.

As state champion, Ms. Cross received $200 and an all-expenses-paid trip to the finals for herself and an adult chaperone. Hickman High School received $500 for the purchase of poetry books. The first Missouri runner-up was 18-year-old Ann Truka, a senior at Parkway West High School in Ballwin. She received $100, with $200 for her school.

The national finals included the Welcome Banquet on April 23, three rounds of semi-finals on April 24, and the Congressional Breakfast and final round on April 25.

Ms. Cross took to Washington the three poems with which she won the Missouri championship: Poem for Haruko by June Jordan, The Ocean by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and There are Birds Here by Jamaal May.

Watch the videos of the 2018 Missouri State Finals

Introductions and Round 1 – Shakira Cross performs at 27:46, Poem for Haruko by June Jordan
Round 2 – Shakira Cross, 1:26, The Ocean by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Round 3 and Awards – Shakira Cross, 00:00, There are Birds Here by Jamaal May

Missouri’s regional champions of the 2018 Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest

St. Louis County | Ann Truka, senior, Parkway West High School (Ballwin) – First Runner-up
Southeast | Brice Jansen, senior, Leopold High School
St. Charles County | Maggie Poronto, senior, Emil E. Holt Sr. High School (Wentzville)
Central | Shakira Cross, senior, Hickman High School (Columbia) – State Champion
Lauren Miller, National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Out Loud program manager

Northwest | Allyah Smith, sophomore, St. Joseph Christian School (St. Joseph)
Kansas City | Tempest Malone, junior, Notre Dame de Sion High School
Northeast | Kaiya Thompson, junior, Troy Buchanan High School (Troy)
Southwest | Mari-Ellin Witt, senior, Stockton High School
St. Louis City | Nyla Long, sophomore, Crossroads College Preparatory School

The annual Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest encourages the nation’s high school students to experience great poetry through participating in a dynamic nationwide recitation competition. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage. Missouri has participated in Poetry Out Loud every year since the program was founded in 2006 by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

The Poetry Foundation and the NEA administer Poetry Out Loud together with the state arts agencies of all 50 states, the District of Columbia, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. The Missouri Arts Council and the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education work in partnership to bring Poetry Out Loud to Missouri.

13 years of Poetry Out Loud in Missouri

From the first Poetry Out Loud in 2006, these are Missouri’s State Champions.

2018 | Shakira Cross, Hickman High School, Columbia
2017 | Emily Bauer, Parkway West High School, St. Louis County
2016 | Sarah Koo, Parkway North High School, St. Louis County
2015 | Maya Bryant, Holt High School, Wentzville
2014 | Thomas Fields, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis
2013 | Essence Imani Lee, Crossroads College Preparatory School, St. Louis
2012 | Cameron Locke, Stockton High School, Stockton

2011 | Terry Watkins, Jr., Crossroads College Preparatory, St. Louis
2010 | Nicole Andrews, Springfield R-12 Central High School, Springfield
2009 | Pete Winfrey, St. Louis University High School, St. Louis
2008 | Aryiel Everett, Park Hill South High School, Riverside
2007 | Michael Brown, Blue Springs High School, Blue Springs
2006 | Aislinn Lowry, Jefferson City High School, Jefferson City


Schools begin to register for Poetry Out Loud every fall at the beginning of the academic year. Check these resources to learn more about how the program works and the benefits it brings to students and schools. Also, contact Virginia Sanders, Missouri Poetry Out Loud coordinator, at 314-340-6851 or

  • Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest
  • National Endowment for the Arts pages about Poetry Out Loud
  • Poetry Foundation
  • Poetry Is Alive and Well in Missouri article – “You can pick poems you can relate to and put your own spin on it,” says 2015 Missouri State Champion Maya Bryant in this interview in StreetScape Magazine May/June 2015 (pages 70-71) with Maya and other 2015 Missouri participants.
  • Get Involved in Poetry Out Loud! video – Hear from students and teachers about why they love the program in this five-minute video. Missouri is prominently featured. There are comments from Thomas Fields, 2014 Missouri State Champion and one of only nine finalists in the 2014 nationals. There are also comments from Charles Hussung, teacher at St. Louis University High School at which Thomas was a senior, and from Virginia Sanders of the Missouri Arts Council, our Missouri Poetry Out Loud coordinator.
  • Letter (PDF) from the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to school superintendents describing the 2016 program and how Poetry Out Loud benefits schools
  • Article (PDF) by the National Association of State Arts Agencies lauding the program’s life-changing “power of poetry and partnership”