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Grass Valley, CA, March 1, 2021 – Nevada County Arts Council has announced the winners of its 2021 Poetry Out Loud County Championships, following a coaching season like none other.

“If you consider that Poetry Out Loud thrives as a program that engages high school age students in the classroom, in the company of one another, and that it ultimately requires these students to recite their poems live – before an audience – one might argue that it’s a miracle that we pulled this off at all,” says Eliza Tudor, Executive Director at Nevada County Arts Council. “This year, with dedicated coaching sessions and the Championships all happening online, it was an act of faith that students would derive something of real value from it. And yet they did.”

Connie Krautkramer of Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning (SAEL) has won first place for their recitation of After the Disaster by Abigail Deutsch, and Experience by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Of Experience, Connie says: “The poem reveals the forces that shape our lives and our experience, and it shows us we can use those things for the better.”

Georgina Caruncho, also of SAEL, is runner up for her recitation of Barter by Sara Teasdale and Ebb by Edna St. Vincent Millay, while Donnelle Suehead-Flynn has received third prize for her recitation of Grief by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and The Mortian of San Francisco by Randall Mann. Said Caruncho of her choice of poem: “From the moment I first read Sara Teasdale’s Barter, I fell in love with it. It was so positive and so beautiful – it felt like a poem that everybody needed to hear during these difficult times.”

Three students have also received honorary mentions for distinguished achievement; Bekah Callahan for Hope is a thing with feathers by Emily Dickinson and I Remember, I Remember by Thomas Hood; Xavier Jaldin Hartsough for April Love by Ernest Dowson and Kin by Maya Angelou; and Ava Roos for The Arrow and the Song by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and The End of Science Fiction by Lisel Mueller. Bekah said of her poem, Hope is a thing with feathers: “This poem is about hope, which is always there, like a bird song; hope gives me a sense of relief, a sense of something to keep moving on with.”

Nevada County Arts Council’s six judges included Nevada County Librarian, Nick Wilczek, Allison Chan, Chris Maher, Kirsten Casey and Rooja Mohassessy. They were coached in evaluation criteria, including physical presence, voice and articulation, dramatic appropriateness, evidence of understanding  and overall performance.

Poet Rooja Mohassessey, said: “It was a privilege and a pleasure to be a judge for this year’s virtual competition. With far fewer finalists than usual, it was a much harder call. The participants were all well-prepared with polished recitations that carried through beautifully on Zoom. A very moving experience as always. Congratulations to all!”

What’s next for Nevada County’s winners?  Tudor says: “This year, the State Championships will take place online, and one winner will be selected to represent California in the national competition. The California State winner receives a small cash prize and an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, D.C. as well as an opportunity to compete at the National Finals for college scholarship funds – and these take place at the end of April.”

Under normal circumstances, Poetry Out Loud finalists from every county compete in the Senate Chambers at the Capitol in Sacramento, with scores of legislators in attendance, as well as California Arts Council council members and staff. With standing room only, it is televised live – as it will be this year – but only online. An average year sees upwards of 60,000 students participating in California’s POL, the largest state competition in the nation.”

Nevada County Arts Council saw a dramatic decline in participation in Poetry Out Loud this year, due to the capacity of teachers and students. To encourage students to participate the Council offered every type of coaching to fit the needs of schools, teachers, classrooms of students and individual students, including formal, informal, ad hoc and bespoke sessions, as well as live sessions recorded as masterclasses in partnership with Nevada County Media. Says Tudor: “We also offered incentives to participate, such as book tokens, and cash prizes for our top three finalists.”

The Council’s coach for Poetry Out Loud, Conrad Cecil, said: “Coaching students this year was a ray of light in a clouded world, seeing and hearing bright voices and eyes coming through the internet, despite the crackle and disconnect of video conferencing software. The students’ words say it all.”

One particular school shone out in its determination to participate. Sierra Academy of Expeditionary Learning’s 11th Grade English Honors class all participated, guided by their teacher, Marika Beck. Of the experience, Beck says: “Our students are so fortunate to have participated in this outstanding program and SAEL is honored to have students chosen for the top three winning recitations in the county. Conrad went above and beyond in dedicating so much time and energy to coaching our students and I have learned so much from him throughout this process.”

Beyond the State Finals for Poetry Out Loud, what other opportunities exist for students? Tudor says:  “All finalists will have an opportunity to present their poems at our 5th Annual Sierra Poetry Festival, which culminates – online – on April 10th and 11th. Our three awardees will also present their poems to our Nevada County Board of Supervisors at an upcoming public meeting, to be announced.”

More information about Poetry Out Loud can be found at https://www.capoetryoutloud.org and https://www.nevadacountyarts.org/poetry-out-loud.