SOLEDAD — Soledad High School senior Tawny Hoang earned her spot as Monterey County champion at this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition, held online and hosted by Arts Council for Monterey County.
Hoang competed Feb. 6 against countywide talent from Alisal, Gonzales, Pacific Grove, Rancho San Juan and York high schools. As the winner at the county level, she and one chaperone will get an all-expenses-paid trip to Sacramento for the state competition.
“I’m really shocked right now,” Hoang said immediately after the announcement she was the winner. “Thank you guys for giving me this opportunity.”
During the final two rounds of the competition, Hoang read “Self Help” by Michael Ryan and “Object Lesson” by Claire Schwartz.
“Tawny is on her way to Sacramento to represent Monterey County against all the other county winners at the California State Legislature, where the state competition will be held,” said Garland Thompson Jr., the host for the event.
Thompson said Hoang enjoys photography and is the editor of her school’s literary magazine called Forgotten in the Fields.
“Tawny is a proud Vietnamese American who has come to accept herself with the help of art,” Thompson said while introducing Hoang. “She’s embraced being creative and is trying to keep that in her school.”
The other South Monterey County finalist was Elizabeth Sanchez from Gonzales High School. Sanchez read “My Partner Wants Me to Write Them a Poem About Sheryl Crow” by Kayleb Rae Candrilli and “Across the Street” by Austin Segrest.
Poetry Out Loud is a nationwide poetry competition that partners with the National Endowment of the Arts, the Poetry Foundation and the California Arts Council, including locally the Arts Council for Monterey County. The first local competition in the county was 2008. All high school students in the county are eligible to participate, including home-school students.
Also reading poems at the competition were two rounds of runner-ups. Those included Gissell Perez from Gonzales High and Karla Vasquez from Soledad High.
Before the finalists, there was a round of video poem submissions from Junelle Aubrey Geli and Karla Vasquez, both from Soledad High School. Geli presented “Music is My Escape,” and Vasquez presented “World Water.”
“My dream is to have every high school in the county taking part in the competition, as well as any homeschoolers who want to, as well,” Thompson said.
With 16 high schools in the county, Thompson urged students, parents and teachers who are interested to talk to their school administrators.
Poetry Out Loud encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials as well as a competition environment for high school students across the country.
“It starts with high school kids competing in their classrooms and goes to national competition, where winners from each state are sent to Washington, D.C., for a major prize of $20,000 towards a college scholarship,” Thompson said.
Thompson explained the program can fit within existing work since it takes about three weeks with 20 minutes per classroom period.
At the state level, Hoang will be competing for a champion spot that would lead to a trip to Washington, D.C., for the national competition. The state champion will also receive $200 and earn their school $500 for poetry materials, while the state runner-up will receive $100 and earn $200 for their school.
At the national level, the champion earns $20,000, second place $10,000, third place $5,000, and $1,000 is awarded to fourth through ninth places as well as the honorable mention. Each of those winners also secures $500 for their schools to purchase poetry materials.