• Poetry Out Loud 2020 Missouri State Finalists

2020 Missouri State Finalists, Poetry Out Loud | L to r, Allison Bowlin, Rachel Solverud, Runner-Up Eliza Shaffer, State Champion Mary Margaret Hughes, Andrew Normington, Alanna Bryson, Allie Ludwig, Amelia Truong | photo, Lloyd Grotjan

Poetry Out Loud

Mary Margaret Hughes of Springfield is Missouri’s 2020 champion

Mary Margaret Hughes, an 18-year-old senior at Central High School in Springfield, became the 2020 champion of Missouri’s annual Poetry Out Loud competition when our state’s eight regional champions gathered in Jefferson City on March 12, 2020 for the state finals.

Poetry Out Loud is the national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country.

Ms. Hughes was slated to go on to represent Missouri at the national finals, vying with 52 other state and territorial champions in Washington, D.C. on April 27-29. However, shortly after the Missouri finals, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation cancelled the national finals because of the rapidly escalating nationwide threat of COVID-19. Both the Missouri Arts Council and the Poetry Out Loud organization are seeking ways to honor the state champions.

Ms. Hughes rose to Missouri’s top spot from more than 4,000 other Missouri high school students who began competing in fall 2019 in a pyramid structure of contests starting at the classroom level, then school-wide, then regional. Ms. Hughes was the champion of the Southwest Region. The Missouri state finals runner-up was 17-year-old Eliza Shaffer, a senior at Pembroke High School in Kansas City.

Ms. Hughes chose these poems for her performance at the Missouri finals:

You can experience on video all eight regional champions at the Missouri finals. Ms. Hughes’ performances and the awards ceremony have also been edited into a single video.

Mary Margaret Hughes reciting her three poems and receiving her state championship award

Introductory remarks and the eight regional champions reciting the first of their three poems

The regional champions reciting the second and third of their three poems, and the announcement and awarding of the state champion and runner-up

The Poetry Foundation awards the state champions $200 and their schools $500 for the purchase of poetry books. The runners-up receive $100 and their schools $200. In addition, because the 2020 national finals had to be cancelled, the Poetry Foundation has awarded an additional $1,000 to every state champion.

Poetry Out Loud helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. 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.

Missouri’s champions of Poetry Out Loud 2020

Central | Allison Bowlin, senior, age 17, Cole Camp High School
Kansas City | Eliza Shaffer, senior, age 17, Pembroke High School
Northwest | Alanna Bryson, junior, age 17, Central High School (St. Joseph)
St. Charles County | Amelia Truong, junior, age 17, Holt High School (Wentzville)
St. Louis City | Andrew Normington, senior, age 17, St. Louis University High School
St. Louis County | Rachel Solverud, senior, age 17, Nerinx Hall (Webster Groves)
Southeast | Allie Ladwig, senior, age 17, Notre Dame Regional High School (Cape Girardeau)
Southwest | Mary  Margaret Hughes, senior, age 18, Central High School (Springfield)

15 years of Poetry Out Loud in Missouri

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

2020 | Mary Margaret Hughes, Central High School, Springfield
2019 | Kate Brown, Stockton High School, Stockton
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 Arts Council special initiatives coordinator, at 314-340-6851 or virginia.sanders@ltgov.mo.gov.

  • Poetry Out Loud national program
  • National Endowment for the Arts pages about Poetry Out Loud
  • Poetry Foundation
  • 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”