Press Releases

Tennessee Poetry Out Loud Contest is Saturday, March 2: Meet the Student Competitors

Nashville — The 2019 Tennessee Poetry Out Loud (POL) Contest will be held at the new Tennessee State Museum on Saturday, March 2, 2019. The contest begins at 10:00 a.m. and is free and open to the public. The Museum is located at 1000 Rosa Parks Blvd. in Nashville.

The event will be emceed by Michael McRay, a writer, educator, and facilitator living in Nashville, TN. Using the power of personal stories to bring people together and transform division, he’s the author of the forthcoming book Stories that Might Save Us: How Truth-Telling from Divided Lands Can Help Our Divided States, as well as Where the River Bends: Considering Forgiveness in the Lives of Prisoners, among others. He’s the Southeast Regional Manager for the global nonprofit Narrative 4, founded and curates Tenx9 Nashville Storytelling, and occasionally lectures on international conflict, reconciliation, and forgiveness as adjunct faculty at Lipscomb University.

The judges for the contest include Lee Baird, Marilyn Kallet, Timothy Moore and Tia Smedley. The Nashville Jazz Workshop will provide music.

Meet the 21 students who will be participating from across the state:

Maxwell Binkley
Maxwell is a junior in Rutherford County Schools. He enjoys reading lengthy, cheesy and poorly written romance novels and critiquing Adam Sandler movies. He is a section leader in the marching band, an active humanitarian volunteer, and a devoted missionary for his church. Max wishes to serve in the US National Guard while receiving a degree in combat medicine.

Hayden-Leigh Bradley
Hayden-Leigh is a sophomore at Brighton High School, where she is active in DECA and Spanish Honor Society. She also participates in her high school choir at church, and she plans on singing her way across the Canadian border this summer. Hayden-Leigh wants to pursue learning how to create special effects makeup in the future.

Payton Campbell
Payton is a 17-year-old who volunteers with the Oak Ridge Animal Shelter, plays D&D, writes character backstories, draws, and studies for her future job in Zoology. By the end of this year, she will have completed her first semester of college while completing her senior year.

Britney Carmack
Britney is a 16-year-old junior who is proud to be representing CCHS at Poetry Out Loud this year. She discovered her passion for poetic interpretation while involved in her high school theater department, which she has been dedicated to since freshmen year. Britney hopes to attend college for filmmaking and graphic design and wishes to one day be a screenwriter or film director. She also hopes to continue to pursue theater as one of her many hobbies.

Alyvia Crawley
Alyvia is a senior at Clarksville High. This is the second year she has been given the honor to compete at the state level, and she is thrilled at the opportunity. Whether it is Scripture or poetry, speeches or monologues, she loves the memorization and recitation of powerful words and does so as an act of worship.

Taylor Elliot
Taylor, a senior at Briarcrest Christian School, enjoys calligraphy, origami, and singing with the Briarcrest Men’s Acapella Group. A member of the Wordsmith Team, this Renaissance man is returning for his second year of the Poetry Out Loud competition. Taylor has a passion for helping others; he intends to major in biochemistry and pursue a degree in medicine.

Essence Garner
Essence is a senior attending Holloway High School in Murfreesboro. After graduating she plans on studying at Middle Tennessee State University and majoring in Fashion Merchandising. In her spare time, she enjoys painting, dancing and designing clothes. Being a part of POL has given her the opportunity to discover her new love for poetry. She is looking forward to meeting new people and broadening her horizons on this journey.

Denise Geronimo
Denise is an outgoing, quirky 17-year-old from Memphis, Tennessee, and she currently attends 11th grade at St. Agnes Academy (go stars!). Denise has always loved the thrill of public speaking, and she has performed in a few school productions. This year is her first time competing at the Poetry Out Loud competition, and she is extremely excited to participate. Denise would like to thank her teacher, Mrs. Ann Neal, for coaching and motivating her every day.

Kendall Grimes
Kendall is excited to be participating for the first time in Poetry Out Loud. She is a poet who most recently performed an original spoken-word poem called “Teach Me the Truth” in front of several thousand teachers at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference in Nashville. In addition to working on poetry, Kendall is an outstanding student who plays volleyball and softball, runs track, is a member of BGA’s Bridge Club (that promotes equity and inclusion) and a member of the school newspaper.

Lauren Harwood
Lauren is a junior at Walker Valley High School in Cleveland, Tennessee. Lauren is an outstanding student who participates in numerous extracurricular activities. She participates in Speech, Drama, and Debate and is a member of the National Speech and Debate Association. She has been active in audio-visual coursework and hosted “The Spill,” Walker Valley’s daily news program during her sophomore year. One thing that stands out about Lauren is her kindness toward everyone.

Elizabeth Hunt
Elizabeth is a 16-year-old girl full of pep and spark. Her laughter is infectious, partly because her face gets extremely red but also because she’s just that fun. Elizabeth enjoys drama but just inside the theater classroom where she has become a dynamic actress. She will blow you away with her radiant personality and her knowledge of cheesy anime.

Ashley Igbokwe
Ashley is a 10th-grade student at Cane Ridge HS. She moved to Nashville in 2018 and is currently a student in Ms. Flowers’ Imaginative Writing class. In her free time, Ashley likes to draw and read anything that catches her attention. When she graduates, Ashley plans on being an engineer. Her ultimate passion would be to start a nonprofit organization for Autism.

Charity Johnson
Charity is a spoken-word artist, actress, and poet, whose passion is to advocate for the civil rights of every individual in society. Her notable achievements include recognition in ACT-SO for spoken-word, Drop the Mic Poetry Slam for the National Civil Rights Museum, and Memphis Youth Got Talent. After graduation, she plans to pursue a double major in Broadcast Journalism and Theater.

Jasmine Kongmanychanh
Jasmine is a junior at Central Magnet School, known for her artistic abilities. She published her illustrated poetry anthology during her freshman year and is currently enrolled in AP courses. Involved in Model UN, BETA club, and Art club, she is hardworking and passionate. Her favorite medium is charcoal, and she enjoys drawing portraits of others.

Jada Laws
Jada is a senior at Harding Academy in Memphis and the daughter of Bryan Laws and Dr. Jo Ann Sevier-Laws. She is involved in many activities inside and outside of school, including cheer, Senior Beta Club, Bridge Builders, and Jack and Jill of America. In her free time, you can find Jada practicing her oboe, eating crushed ice, or cracking a joke or two. Jada likes poetry and performance because she can become a new person and tell any story she wants by using emotion and her stage presence.

Chase Pelletier
Chase is a junior from Clayton-Bradley Academy in Knoxville. He is a laid back kind of person who enjoys arts of every kind and loves the geeky and nerdy sides of things. He is a member of his school’s National Art Honor Society. He has also been a part of his school’s speech and debate team for several years running. He loves public speaking and definitely enjoys poetry recitation.

Hannah Price
Hannah is a junior at Volunteer High School. She does not participate in many extracurricular activities besides playing saxophone in the school’s marching and jazz bands, singing in the concert choir, advanced women’s choir, and acapella group, leading worship in her church’s youth group and acting in the school’s musicals. During all of her abundant free time, she enjoys reading, playing piano, writing short stories, plays and poetry, and watching cartoons.

Emma Ross Sermons
Emma is a senior at University School in Johnson City who loves her three dogs, five chickens, and three cats. She has immersed herself in her artistic expression through painting, dancing, and performing. She is also an avid critic of tiramisu.

Camden Smolter
Camden is a freshman at Hardin Valley Academy. While her favorite subject is math, she enjoys reading and reciting poetry. Her interest in poetry was sparked from her love of writing and performing funny songs and raps.

Alexandria Snyder
Alexandria is a junior at Haywood High School. She expresses that she has always been shy even though she has a passion for drama. Her hobbies include reading, photography and makeup artistry. She enjoys spending time with her 9-year-old sister, Bella and her 7-year-old brother, Tommy.

Summer Vo
Summer decided to make her junior year full of new experiences and risks. This year she has become editor of the yearbook staff and a part of the Student Diversity Leadership Team. She has never done anything like Poetry Out Loud, but she has always appreciated the expressiveness of poetry. She especially wants to thank her family and best friends for always supporting her.

To learn more about the contest, visit