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Reciting Poetry Earns South Dakota Teenager A National Prize

May 28, 2021
Originally published on May 28, 2021 3:23 pm

Rahele Megosha, a high school senior from South Dakota, has been named the 2021 Poetry Out Loud national champion. The competition invites high school students to memorize and recite great poetry, both classic and modern. For her win, Megosha recited three poems: "I Am Learning to Abandon the World" by Linda Pastan, "Fairy Tale with Laryngitis and Resignation Letter" by Jehanne Dubrow and Mary Lamb's poem "Breakfast."

Her prize comes with a $20,000 award. This fall, Megosha is beginning college at Columbia University in New York City, where she has a full-ride scholarship. She plans to major in biochemistry, with a concentration in either African-American and African diaspora studies or human rights.

In a Poetry Out Loud video posted by the National Endowment for the Arts earlier this month, Megosha said that the experience "has really made me understand beauty and its complexity — but also beauty in the simple and mundane ... Being able to get to know these different poets and their different poems, it really helps me understand the multitude of perspectives that exist in this world, and I think that's a really beautiful thing."

National Endowment for the Arts / YouTube

According to a feature in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader published last month, Megosha is involved in numerous extracurriculars, including "poetry club, Black Student Union, Warrior youth program, student council, principal's advisory, volunteering, speech, debate and oral interpretation" at Washington High School in Sioux Falls. She's also served as the captain of the speech team for the past two years.

Thousands of students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and American Samoa participated in this year's competition, which was held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic. The event is organized by the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation, along with state and jurisdictional arts agencies.

The second-place winner is Kendall Grimes, a junior at Battle Ground Academy in Tennessee, who received a $10,000 prize. Third place went to Soojin Park, a senior at Auburn High School in Alabama, who won a $5,000 prize. Six other finalists are receiving a $1,000 prize; the schools that each of the top nine finalists attend will receive $500 to purchase poetry materials.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Poems can transform you. Hearing and speaking them out loud is even better. That's one big takeaway from the annual Poetry Out Loud competition for high school students. This year's winner, who was announced last night, is Rahele Megosha of South Dakota. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas has more.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: For her win, Rahele Megosha memorized and recited three poems - "I Am Learning To Abandon The World" by Linda Pastan, "Fairy Tale With Laryngitis And Resignation Letter" by Jehanne Dubrow and Mary Lamb's poem "Breakfast."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RAHELE MEGOSHA: (Reading) A dinner party, coffee, tea, sandwich or supper. All may be in their way pleasant, but to me, not one of these deserves the praise that a welcomer of newborn days a breakfast merits.

TSIOULCAS: Poetry Out Loud is organized by the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation. In this year's virtual event, Megosha beat out thousands of other students from across all 50 states and several U.S. territories who memorized and recited works of classic and modern poetry. Megosha is a senior at Washington High School in Sioux Falls, and she loves words. Her many extracurriculars include being captain of her school's speech team, along with poetry club, debate, the Black student union and student council. Her prize includes a $20,000 award. She let loose when she thanked her family and friends who were surrounding her when she won first place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEGOSHA: Obviously, everybody in this room.

(LAUGHTER)

MEGOSHA: My mom for birthing me...

(LAUGHTER)

MEGOSHA: ...My sister for introducing me to the arts in the first place, my coach for teaching me how to use my voice. There's been amazing support that I have out there. Oh, my God. I love you guys. This has been crazy. Oh, my God.

TSIOULCAS: This fall, Rahele Megosha will start college at Columbia University in New York, where she'd already been offered a full-ride scholarship. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.