The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation partner with state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a competition that encourages high school students to learn about great poetry through analysis, memorization, and recitation.  The program helps teens master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

The National Endowment for the Arts recently issued these statistics:

  • For the 2018-19 school year: more than 275,000 students and 8,000 teachers from 2,300 schools participated in POL.
  • Cumulative stat: Since the program began in 2005, more than 3.8 million students and 60,000 teachers from 16,000 schools across the country have participated in Poetry Out Loud.

For 2018-19, Illinois is also in the top 5 states in the nation for student participation and also in the top 5 states for student participation increase since last year!  10,713 Illinois students participated in 2018-19 — an increase of 1,852!

Read 2018-19 National Endowment for the Arts Acting Chair Mary Anne Carter letter here

A video of last year’s Illinois state contest, produced by UMedia.

    • The Illinois Arts Council Agency works with these regional partners to produce Poetry Out Loud in Illinois:
      • Southern: Carbondale Community Arts
      • Southwestern: Southwestern Illinois College
      • Northern: Rockford Area Arts Council
      • Eastern: 40 North/88 West
      • Chicago and Suburbs: The Poetry Center of Chicago
      • Central: Springfield Area Arts Council
      • Western: Quad City Arts

2020 Contest Dates

Central Illinois Regional Contest:  Thursday, February 13.  4:00pm.  Theatre Three, Hoogland Center for the Arts (downtown Springfield).

Illinois State Contest:  Monday, March 2.  10:00am.  LRS Theatre, Hoogland Center for the Arts (downtown Springfield).

View the online anthology HERE. 

For more information, please visit or call 217-753-3519, or you may email Central Illinois regional coordinator Sheila Walk at

Poetry Out Loud Footage – 2019 National Book Festival

The NEA hosted 2019 POL National Champ Isabella Callery (Minnesota) and National Runner-up Scottlynn Ballard (Illinois) at the National Book Festival this year. They were in conversation with poet and national finals judge Jericho Brown, and they both recited gracefully and spoke eloquently about POL and their connection to poetry. You can find the footage of the session here:

Illinois State Champion Takes Second Place At Nationals

Illinois’ own Scottlynn Ernestine Ballard won second place at the Poetry Out Loud National Competition in Washington, D.C. on May 2nd, 2019. She is a junior at Edwardsville Senior High School.

(Watch a video of her recitation of  “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaughnessy on YouTube)

Minnesota’s Isabella Callery (Anishinaabe), a senior at Arcadia Charter School, received first place. Georgia’s Alejandro J. Campo, a junior at Flowery Branch High School, won third.

More than 275,000 students across the nation participated in this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. The competition started in the classroom, then moved forward to school, regional, and state competitions.  Champions from all fifty states as well as Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, and  District of Columbia  participated in the national final.

The Poetry Out Loud national finals are administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, Illinois Arts Council Agency and other state arts agencies. Since 2005, 3.8 million students from 16,000 high schools nationwide have participated in this program.

2019 State Poetry Out Loud Contest Winners Announced

Photo: Illinois State Champion Scottlynn Ballard with Special Guest Justine Haka with award designed by Jensine Williams [Photographer: William Richards]

 Scottlynn Ballard from Edwardsville Senior High School (Edwardsville) was declared the winner at the Illinois State Contest of the Poetry Out Loud: National Recitation Contest held on Friday, March 8, 2019, at the Hoogland Center for the Arts in Springfield.  She will advance to the national competition in Washington, D.C., in late April.  To win the competition, Scottlynn recited “Worth” by Marilyn Nelson, “Self-Help” by Michael Ryan, and “Ode” by Arthur O’Shaunessy.

Alyssa Argent, William Howard Taft High School (Chicago), was named runner-up.  Rounding out the top five were Nico Chiligiris (Central High School, Champaign), Charles Hsu (Deerfield High School, Deerfield), and Bushra Khan (Maine East High School, Park Ridge).

The Illinois State Contest featured recitations by two students from each of eight Poetry Out Loud regional contests in the state:  Belleville, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago-City, Chicago-Metro, Rockford, Rock Island, and Springfield.

2019 Central Illinois Regional Contest

Right: Cassandra Bradbury and Courtney Wick  Left: Cassandra Bradbury, Cole White, and Sara Kennedy [Photographer: William Richards]

Cassandra Bradbury and Cole White of Pawnee High School were the top two finishers in the competition.  They will advance to the Illinois State Finals in Springfield at the Hoogland Center for the Arts on Friday, March 8, 2019, at 10:00 A.M.

Springfield Southeast High School’s Sara Kennedy was named as an alternate.

The Illinois State Contest will feature recitations by two students from each of eight Poetry Out Loud regions in the state:  Alton, Carbondale, Champaign, Chicago-City, Chicago-Suburbs, Rockford, Rock Island, and Springfield.  The Illinois State Champion will advance to the national contest in Washington, D.C., in late April.

Over 1,395 students and 35 teachers began the 2019 Poetry Out Loud season in central Illinois last fall.  18 students competed the Central Illinois Regional contest. There name are:

Khadija Dear and Ella Smith, Eisenhower High School (Decatur)

Genna Nielsen and Danielle Rogers, Eureka High School (Eureka)

Bethany Bergschneider and Madden Delaney, Franklin High School (Franklin)

Grace Henderson, Lutheran High School (Springfield)

Emma Halteman and Jamie Hefley, Rochester High School (Rochester)

Claire Carter and Ruthie Kinion, Sacred Heart-Griffin High School (Springfield)

Ian Unsbee, Southeast High School (Springfield)

Joy Brown, Springfield High School (Springfield)

Claire Bushur and Tory Tensen, Teutopolis High School (Teutopolis)

Contest staff for the 2019 Central Illinois Regional Contest included

Recitation judges:  Anne Bishoff, Reggie Guyton, Nikki Overcash

Accuracy judge:  Thèa Chesley

Prompter:  Jerry Johnson