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 finals on March 12. Our state’s eight regional champions gathered in Jefferson City to determine who would 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.
Shortly after the Missouri finals, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation decided the national finals would have to be cancelled because of the rapidly escalating nationwide threat of COVID-19. “We understand that many people have committed long hours preparing for the contest, and we share in your disappointment,” says Poetry Out Loud’s website. “Unfortunately, the current environment mandates cancellation.”
Both the Missouri Arts Council and the Poetry Out Loud organization will be 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 competed in a pyramid structure of contests starting at the classroom level, then school-wide, then regional. Ms. Hughes is the champion of the Southwest Region.
As state champion, Ms. Cross receives $200. Central High School receives $500 for the purchase of poetry books.
The Missouri runner-up was 17-year-old Eliza Shaffer, a senior at Pembroke High School in Kansas City. She receives $100, with $200 for her school.
Missouri high school students began competing last fall in a pyramid structure of contests starting at the classroom level, then school-wide, then regional. The regional contests took place during February.
Poetry Out Loud is a 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. This program 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.