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The Hon. Tahesha Way, Secretary of State

State Champion Named at New Jersey Poetry Out Loud Competition

Up Next: National Poetry Competition in Washington, DC

2014 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Champion Natasha Vargas at the State Finals at NJPAC

TRENTON, N.J. – Natasha Vargas, a senior from Lawrence High School, was named State Champion at the 2014 NJ Poetry Out Loud State Finals competition, part of the national poetry recitation program. The state finals took place today at Victoria Theater at New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC). Ms. Vargas will move on to represent New Jersey in the national finals in Washington, DC in April to compete against 52 champions from every state and territory, all vying for the national title and the chance to win prizes including college scholarships.

Now in its ninth year, Poetry Out Loud is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation, and implemented by State Arts Councils across the country. With more than 365,000 students engaged nationwide, New Jersey ranks second with 28,618 students participating and first for teacher participation with more than 780 teachers involved this year. 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.

“The Council is extremely proud to support Poetry Out Loud because it challenges our young people to stand and deliver,” said Nick Paleologos, executive director of the NJ State Council on the Arts. “Through the process of making these poems their own, students ask themselves tough questions, find creative answers, and then lay it all out there on stage for the rest of us to behold. Very courageous. Very impressive.”

The state finals are the culmination of a competition that began in the fall and included a record-breaking number of New Jersey students from 148 high schools, including 1 homeschool association. The 10 state finalists successfully competed in classroom, school, and regional-level contests before qualifying to compete in today’s competition. Along with Ms. Vargas, Lucy Wang, a senior from Holmdel High School earned the title of State Runner-Up. Following is a list of the 10 student finalists:

  • State Champion: Natasha Vargas, Lawrence High School, Lawrenceville
  • Runner-Up: Lucy Wang, Holmdel High School, Holmdel
  • David Anderson - Livingston High School, Livingston
  • Christelle Marie Chua - Mother Seton Regional High School, Clark
  • Matthew DeMarco - Dumont High School, Dumont
  • Gareth Haynes - Doane Academy, Burlington
  • Noah Jarrett – Northern Valley Regional at Old Tappan, Old Tappan
  • Ankita Mohapatra - Morris County School of Technology, Denville
  • Chiamaka Obidigbo - Columbia High School, Maplewood
  • Ashley Ungvarsky - Cinnaminson High School, Cinnaminson

Student recitations are evaluated by a panel of jurors using standardized, national criteria based on merit and accuracy.

Today’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 Natasha Vargas 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.

For the second year in a row, CavanKerry Press has generously donated books of poetry to all participating New Jersey schools and a special award for the teacher of the State Champion – tuition and lodging for the Frost Place Conference for Teachers this June in New Hampshire.

New Jersey Poetry Out Loud is presented by the NJ State Council on the Arts in partnership with Playwrights Theatre of New Jersey, and Discover Jersey Arts, an initiative of the Council and the ArtPride New Jersey Foundation. The program is administered in partnership with Bergen County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs, Rutgers Camden Center for the Arts, Mayo Performing Arts Center, South Orange Performing Arts Center, Two River Theater Company, CavanKerry Press, New Jersey Performing Arts Center, and PCK Media. Support for the New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Finals is provided by the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

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


About Poetry Out Loud

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 New Jersey State Council on the Arts is a division of the NJ Department of State. It receives funding in direct appropriations from the State of New Jersey through a dedicated Hotel/Motel Occupancy fee and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. Since 1966, its volunteer members and professional staff have worked to improve the quality of life in New Jersey by helping the arts to flourish. To learn about the Council, please visit For more information about what's happening in the arts statewide, visit


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