From Ann Brown, Director of Arts Education –
The emcee for this year’s competition is Caroline Randall Williams. Caroline is a multi-genre writer and educator in Nashville, TN. She is co-author of the Phyllis Wheatley Award-winning young adult novel The Diary of B.B. Bright, and the NAACP Image Award-winning cookbook Soul Food Love. Named by Southern Living as “One of the 50 People changing the South,” the Cave Canem fellow has been published in multiple journals, essay collections, and news outlets. Her debut collection of poetry, Lucy Negro, Redux was recently adapted by the Nashville Ballet featuring an original score by Grammy award-winning artist Rhiannon Giddens. Caroline is currently the Medicine, Health and Society Writer-In-Residence at Vanderbilt University.
This year’s esteemed judges include:
Erin Smith – Erin is the Creative Director at the Sundress Academy for the Arts and the Managing Editor of Sundress Publications and The Wardrobe. Her third full-length poetry collection, Down, will be published by Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Mid-American, and Crab Orchard Review, among others. She is a Distinguished Lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee, and in 2017 she was inducted into the East Tennessee Writers Hall of Fame.
Jason Gerhard – Jason holds a BFA in Theatre Performance from The University of Memphis and is currently finishing his MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences (TYA) from the University of Central Florida. Jason has worked as a teaching artist with the Orlando Repertory Theatre and UCF, was the Education and then Associate Director for Stage Door Productions in Memphis, and has worked as a freelance actor, director, and educator with other Memphis theatres. He is currently the Assistant Director of Theatre Education for Playhouse on the Square.
Our third judge is Tia Smedley. Tia is a dynamic spoken word artist, whose performances boast of her roots in theatre. She’s helped students “stand tall in their truth” as a teaching artist with Southern Word for the last 10 years. She is also the Founder of Linguistic Liberation, LLC, where services are based on “freeing everyday people, one word at a time.” However, Tia regards herself as more than the titles referring to her skills and gifts. Instead, she chooses to be noted as a child of God, doing her portion of the divine work necessary, to better the human experience.
Finally, our fourth judge is our own, Lee Baird. Lee joined the Commission staff in June 2005. He administers the Literary Arts Program for the Commission, which includes managing grants for literary organizations and individual writers and coordinating special literary projects. In addition, as Grants Analyst, he supervises the agency’s sub-recipient grant monitoring and serves as a liaison to grantees to ensure compliance with all contract requirements.
Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition to high schools across the country. Similar to the National Spelling Bee, the competition begins at the classroom level as participating teachers use the Poetry Out Loud toolkit to teach poetry recitation and run classroom competitions. Students select, memorize and recite poems from an anthology of more than 900 classic and contemporary poems.
Each school champion competes in the State competition, where the winner will receive $1,000, as well as a trip with their teacher to represent Tennessee in Washington D.C. at the National Poetry Out Loud Finals. The winning student of the National Finals will receive $20,000, an honor received by a Tennessee student in 2014.