New Jersey Stage

Monday, March 21, 2011

Clarissa Lotson Named State Champion at NJ Poetry Out Loud Competition

(Trenton, NJ) -- Clarissa Lotson, an eleventh grader from West Orange High School, was named State Champion at the NJ Poetry Out Loud competition, a national poetry recitation program. The state finals took place yesterday at the College of New Jersey's Kendall Main Stage Theatre in Ewing. Ms. Lotson will move on to represent New Jersey in the national finals in Washington, DC next month to compete against 52 other champions from every state and territory across the nation, all vying for the national title and the chance to win prizes including college scholarships.

Now in its sixth year, Poetry Out Loud is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, and implemented by state arts councils across the country. The New Jersey State Council on the Arts sponsors NJ Poetry Out Loud and works closely with a network of partners to maximize the impact of the program. Program partners include Playwrights Theatre of NJ, Bergen County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs, Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts, Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, Two River Theater, New Jersey Network, and Discover Jersey Arts, a cosponsored arts marketing initiative of the Arts Council and ArtPride NJ Foundation. Support for the program is also provided by the Karma Foundation and the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

"These outstanding students help remind us of the power of words, and the importance of self-expression," remarked Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno. "Through the arts, and specifically through this program, New Jersey students gain life-changing experiences and develop critical skills that will serve them well no matter the career path they choose. Thanks to great programs like Poetry Out Loud, the arts will continue to play a pivotal role in making the state more competitive in a 21st century innovation economy."

The state finals are the culmination of a competition that began in the fall and included more than 16,000 students from 86 high schools. The eight state finalists successfully competed in classroom, school, and regional-level contests before qualifying to compete in yesterday's competition. Along with Clarissa Lotson, Kristin Tsuo, a sophomore from The Lawrenceville School, earned the title of State Runner-Up. Following is a list of the eight student finalists:

State Champion: Clarissa Lotson from West Orange High School
State Runner-Up: Kristin Tsuo from the Lawrenceville School
Amber Knox from Atlantic City High School
Ashley Jackson from Mainland Regional High School, Linwood
Kaitlyn Quis from Lawrence High School
Jake Ohring from High Tech High School, North Bergen
Sophia Laurenzi from Montville Township High School
Rachel Alvey from Madison High School

"The Arts Council is proud to sponsor New Jersey's Poetry Out Loud program because it demonstrates what is possible when the arts are an integral part of education and our lives," remarked State Arts Council Chair Sharon Burton Turner. "Through the process of memorizing and personalizing each poem, students are challenged to think critically and creatively, and to build the self confidence so vital for today's changing world."

Yesterday's winners receive cash awards and stipends provided by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation for the purchase of poetry books by their schools. State Champion Clarissa Lotson receives an all-expenses paid trip to Washington, DC to compete in the national finals for prizes totaling $50,000 in awards and school stipends. All monetary prizes are provided by the NEA and the Poetry Foundation.

Learn more about New Jersey Poetry Out Loud, and watch clips from the state finals at

Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the NEA, the Poetry Foundation, and the state arts agencies of the United States. The program seeks to foster the next generation of literary readers by capitalizing on the latest trends in poetry - recitation and performance- to help students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence and learn about their literary heritage. To maximize the positive impact of the program in New Jersey the New Jersey State Council on the Arts partners with Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey to provide intensive school residencies by professional poets and performing artists for interested schools. For more on the national program visit

The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey began operations in 2004 and plans to promote health and the arts by supporting charitable organizations making a positive impact in the lives of people in communities throughout New Jersey. For more information about the foundation, visit
PHOTO: NJ State Council on the Arts Executive Director Steve Runk, NJ Poetry Out Loud Runner-Up Kristin Tsuo, NJ Poetry Out Loud State Champion Clarissa Lotson, NJ State Council on the Arts Chair Sharon Burton Turner -- Photo credit: Frank Wojciechowski