Next month, Meziah Smith will represent North Carolina’s Knightdale High School of Collaborative Design in the upcoming Poetry Out Loud competition. Competitors read poetry aloud, competing for a $20,000 prize and the title of National Champion.

When did you realize your love for reading poetry?

I’ve always liked poetry, especially reading it from different authors. I used to be very soft-spoken. And if something were to bother me, or if I was having a bad day, I wouldn’t verbalize how I was feeling. But getting into Poetry Out Loud, I’ve definitely found my voice, and I’m able to express myself a lot better with poetry. Last year, I didn’t advance, so I made it my goal to come back this year and [advance to the national competition].

Who is your favorite poet and are you choosing to recite him or her this year?

My all-time favorite poet, Edgar Allan Poe, has a few really amazing poems. Anytime somebody asks me that, he’s the first person I think about because he was an unconventional writer in life. This time, I’m using poems from African American women that are kind of centered around the themes of being an African American woman in today’s society.

What do you think makes you stand out in competitions?

I’ve been told that I’m a very emotional performer. I put a lot of emotions and personal connection into the poems that I choose. I can express and kind of breathe through them when I’m performing them. So it doesn’t just feel like I picked that poem, and I’m just gonna recite it. I want to actually show that I know this poem. With Poetry Out Loud, one of the big scoring portions is evidence of understanding and dramatic appropriateness. I make sure that I eat, sleep, and breathe the poems that I pick, so I understand what the author is saying and how to show that with dramatic appropriateness.

How would it feel to be the national champion as a 10th grader and win the $20,000 scholarship?

Being a sophomore, and competing with people who are juniors and seniors is super intimidating. Winning as a sophomore, I feel like I encourage other people who think, you know, I can’t win because I’m a sophomore. Me personally, I didn’t think I would get this far as a sophomore. I didn’t even think last year when I was a freshman that I would have gotten as far as I did. And winning this scholarship to go to Georgetown, which has been my dream school for what feels like forever now, and knowing that it was my hard work and my passion for poetry that got me there, would be amazing.

This story has been updated to reflect that Meziah Smith is 16, not 17. 

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