CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Thirty-nine students from across West Virginia will recite poems by Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Maya Angelou, Charleston native Rita Mae Reese and many others during the 2017 state Poetry Out Loud state finals competition set for March 3-4, 2017, at the Culture Center in Charleston.

The winner will represent West Virginia at the 2017 national Poetry Out Loud competition in Washington, D.C., on April 25-26.

Storyteller, author and recording artist Bil Lepp will serve as master of ceremonies for the state competition. Lepp is a five-time champion of the West Virginia Liars Contest, and his works have received awards and recognition from the Parents’ Choice Foundation, the National Parenting Publications Association and the Public Library Association. In 2011, he was awarded the National Storytelling Network’s Circle of Excellence Award. Lepp is the author of six books and 16 audio collections.

The semi-final competition begins with Division I at 9:30 a.m. on Friday, March 3, followed by Division II at 2:30 p.m.  Saturday’s final competition begins at 1 p.m. West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman and musician Christian Lopez will perform during the finals on Saturday. All sessions are free and open to the public.

            Born and raised in Martinsburg, W.Va., Lopez is steeped in the musical roots of his West Virginia upbringing. His 2015 debut album, Onward, produced by Grammy Award-winner Dave Cobb, has steadily garnered praise and media attention. Rolling Stone Country proclaimed Lopez as the 2015 “Best Newcomer” at the Americana Music Fest in Nashville, Tenn.

Harshman will serve as a judge, along with West Virginia author and songwriter Colleen Anderson; Cathey Crowell Sawyer, producing artistic director of Greenbrier Valley Theatre; Anthony Braxton, 2011 Poetry Out Loud state champion and current senior business management major at West Virginia University; Randi Ward, poet, translator, lyricist and photographer from Belleville, W.Va.; Joel Peckham Jr., assistant professor of literature and creative writing at Marshall University; and Charleston author and poet Ace Boggess.

The state champion receives $200 and an all-expense-paid trip to the national finals. The school receives $500 to purchase poetry books and materials. The runner-up receives $100, while the school receives $200 for poetry books and materials.

This year, the West Virginia Division of Culture and History and the West Virginia Commission on the Arts commissioned Kanawha County artist Nik Botkin to create the West Virginia Poetry Out Loud champion trophy and a companion award that will be displayed at the winning school. Students will also receive original works by West Virginia artists G.W Lanham, Emily Sokolosky of Base Camp Printing Company and a new WVU Press anthology of fiction and poetry by West Virginia writers.

Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry Magazine, the oldest English-language monthly publication dedicated to verse. The program is designed to encourage high school-age students to learn about great poetry through memorization, performance and competition.

For more information, contact Jim Wolfe, arts in education coordinator, at (304) 558-0240 or email him at

The West Virginia Division of Culture and History is an agency within the Office of Secretary of Education and the Arts with Gayle Manchin, cabinet secretary. The division, led by Commissioner Randall Reid-Smith, brings together the past, present and future through programs and services focusing on archives and history, arts, historic preservation and museums. For more information about the division’s programs, events and sites, visit


Catharine Whiddon – Berkeley Springs High School, Morgan County
Emily King – Buckhannon-Upshur High School, Upshur County
Ella Cooper – Cabell Midland High School, Cabell County
Cheyenne Meeks – Cameron High School, Marshall County
Ostin Williams – Capital High School, Kanawha County
Jodee Mullins – Chapmanville Regional High School, Logan County
Dalton Miller – East Hardy High School, Hardy County
Daniel Dyal – Fayetteville High School, Fayette County
Sarah Marzouk – George Washington High School, Kanawha County
Trevor Swiger – Grafton High School, Taylor County
Brett Napier – Greenbrier East High School, Greenbrier County
Elyse Samassekou – Huntington High School, Cabell County
Tate Dixon – Hurricane High School, Putnam County
Aubree Gray – John Marshall High School, Marshall County
Kierston Carson – Lewis County High School, Lewis County
Halona Webb – Liberty High School, Harrison County
Natasha Fowler – Logan High School, Logan County
Ryan Horn – Magnolia High School, Wetzel County
Emily Cales – Meadow Bridge High School, Fayette County
Trent Browning – Midland Trail High School, Fayette County
Sarah Beth Ealy – Morgantown High School, Monongalia County
Beverly Yarber – Nicholas County High School, Nicholas County
Makayla Tyree – Nitro High School, Kanawha County
Anthony Bankers-Beckett – Notre Dame High School, Harrison County
Morgan Harris – Oak Glen High School, Hancock County
Summer Danley – Oak Hill High School, Fayette County
Anya Glover – Paden City High School, Wetzel County
Grayland Emerson Brown – Parkersburg High School, Wood County
Leah Seaman – Philip Barbour High School, Barbour County
Caleb Hanna – Richwood High School, Nicholas County
Jerrod Hildreth – Roane County High School, Roane County
Amber Sturgill – Shady Spring High School, Raleigh County
Kayden Upton – South Charleston High School, Kanawha County
Solange Disasi – Spring Mills High School, Berkeley County
Sabrina Smith – Tyler Consolidated High School, Tyler County
Kristin Wolfe – Union Educational Complex, Grant County
Tyler Ray – Webster County High School, Webster County
Isabelle Pethtel – Wirt County High School, Wirt County
Madison Walker – Woodrow Wilson High School, Raleigh County