New York The National Endowment for the Arts and the publisher of Poetry Magazine have organized a national poetry reading competition for high school students, with the winner receiving a $20,000 college scholarship.
"There's a twofold importance in a program like this," Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
"One half is education; students come into contact with great poetry and language and learn it by heart. There's also an equal, and often overlooked, practical importance. It will improve the student's command of language and will provide much-needed training for speaking in public. A student speaking well will do better in the job market and better in life."
The program, co-sponsored by the NEA and the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, was officially announced Thursday in Pittsburgh at the annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English.
"Poetry Out Loud: The National Recitation Contest" expands upon a pilot program for which competitions were held last year in Chicago and Washington, D.C.
The contests, which start in early 2006, will take place in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, from local classroom readings to state finals, in April, then national finals, scheduled for May 16 in Washington.
"I think the competitive energy you see in sports can be brought into the English classroom," Gioia said. "And you'll have a different set of stars than you find on the basketball court or baseball field."
Poetry Out Loud is one of several NEA responses to the endowment's 2004 report "Reading at Risk," which noted a stagnant reading population and rapidly expanding numbers of nonreaders.
"We need to find engaging, fun and substantial way of reintroducing arts education in schools," Gioia said. "And the poetry project fits naturally into the high school English curriculum."
The NEA and the Poetry Foundation each will contribute $500,000 to Poetry Out Loud, and Gioia expects at least 250,000 students to participate. Prizes will range from $200 for state winners to $500 stipends for the state winners' schools to a $20,000 college scholarship for the national champion.
Judges have not yet been named.