Congratulations, Youssef Biaz!

About a year ago, I conducted a lengthy research project about modern-day Alabama, the preconceptions, and the realties of it. Over the course of a year, I wrote about the differences between what people think Alabama is and what life here is like today. The following press release from the Alabama Alliance for Arts Education provides one more example of how Alabama is not the same locale that provided the substance of so many historical stereotypes of backwardness and bigotry. Congratulations, Youssef Biaz for winning first place in the national Poetry Out Loud competition!


Montgomery, Ala. – The Alabama State Council on the Arts is pleased to announce that Youssef Biaz, from Auburn High School, placed top in the nation Friday evening, April 29 for the Poetry Out Loud National Poetry Recitation Contest in Washington D.C.  On the first day of the two-day competition Youssef placed in the top 3 of the semi-finals, competing against central states and Puerto Rico. At the finals on the second day, competing as one of the top 9 finalists, he placed once again in the top 3, and as we watched from Alabama by UStream, he delivered his final poem, Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop, which solicited audience response for every line. This poem took him to first place. For this honor he receives a scholarship award of $20,000, and his school library receives a $500 stipend for the purchase of poetry books. Youssef was accompanied in Washington, by his teacher, Davis Thompson, his parents and sisters, and Donna Russell from the Alabama Alliance for Arts in Education.

Converging on Washington, DC, April 28-29, 2011 to compete in the nation’s largest youth poetry recitation competition, 53 high school student competitors from across the country advanced from a field of more than 365,000 students who tested their skills in poetry recitation in more than 2,000 schools nationwide.  Award-winning actress Kerry Washington, a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, hosted the evening finals on Friday.  Guest judges for the National Finals are poets Valerie Martínez, Thomas Sayers Ellis, and Brian Turner, actress and author Amber Tamblyn, playwright/actress/director Aditi Brennan Kapil, and Michael Kahn, Artistic Director of the Shakespeare Theatre Company.

Now in its sixth year of national competition, Poetry Out Loud is a partnership between the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, which encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools students across the country.  Poetry Out Loud gives students an opportunity to master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.

The Alabama State Council on the Arts partners with the Alabama Alliance for Arts in Education to implement the program in Alabama. Alabama is fortunate to have four Regional coordinators to ensure statewide participation.  Regional coordinators are Sue Walker, at the University of South Alabama, Mobile; Jackie Trimble, at Huntingdon College, Montgomery; Sharron Rudowski, at Tuscaloosa Arts Council, in Tuscaloosa; and Rose Norman, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The state finals were held for the first time on the Festival Stage at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. The Council is grateful for these valuable partners who share in our success.

Schools that are interested in registering for next year’s Poetry Out Loud should contact Diana Green at 334/242-4076 Ext 241 or by email at More information is available

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