Local high school senior wins California’s Poetry Out Loud competition

An Orange County student has won a state competition that connects young people to poetry through memorization and performance.

Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia, a senior at Mater Dei High School, placed first at California’s 2018 Poetry Out Loud State Finals in Sacramento on March 19 after reciting “If They Should Come for Us” by Fatimah Asghar, “Chorus Sacerdotum” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville and “The Mortician in San Francisco” by Randall Mann.

Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia at the California Poetry Out Loud State Finals
Alexis Rangell-Onwuegbuzia placed first at the California Poetry Out Loud State Finals in Sacramento. (Photo courtesy of the California Arts Council)

Along with a $200 prize, she’s earned a trip to Washington, D.C. to compete in next month’s national Poetry Out Loud finals. Her school will also receive $500 for library materials.

Rangell-Onwuegbuzia is the first Orange County student to win the program’s state championship. In a statement, she described poetry as a tool to promote social change.

“The arts give me the courage to express my values with an activist’s voice in the midst of the fear and ignorance residing on both sides of the ‘fourth wall,’” she said.

Administered statewide by the California Arts Council, Poetry Out Loud is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts that encourages high schoolers to learn about poetry through memorization, performance and competition.

Students qualified for the two-day state contest by winning their district- or county-level competitions. Supported by teacher Melissa Jacobson, Rangell-Onwuegbuzia placed first in the annual Poetry Out Loud OC competition hosted by the Orange County Department of Education in February.  

California’s Poetry Out Loud is billed as the largest event of its kind in the U.S., with participation growing steadily since it began in 2006.