• Virginia Champion Wins 2016 National Poetry Out Loud Competition

    AhkeiPhoto by Don Mears (hi-res image)

    Ahkei Togun, a senior at Tallwood High School, Virginia Beach, won the 2016 National Poetry Out Loud competition on Wednesday, May 4th at Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. Ahkei prevailed over all the other state champions with his captivating recitation of “Bereavement” by William Lisle Bowles. His championship includes top poetry honors and a $20,000 prize. The nationwide competition is sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with the National Poetry Foundation and in Virginia with the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

    Ahkei is the second national Poetry Out Loud champion from the Commonwealth. William Farley won the competition in 2009. No other state has secured the national POL championship twice.

    Now in his senior year at Tallwood, Ahkei has represented Virginia at the national competition as the state champion for the past two years. Alice Anne Ellis, the Poetry Out Loud coordinator at Henrico High School, worked with Ahkei during his freshman year. She recalls: “Even though it was his first experience with Poetry Out Loud, Ahkei’s talent and enthusiasm were obvious.” She added, “Year after year, we have students who enter this program with trepidation, and then blossom in the spotlight, realizing a new talent. They shine, they gain confidence, they discover new poets, and ultimately their own voice.”

    Ahkei spoke passionately about his Poetry Out Loud journey stating, “The biggest thing is to be you. It either gets you the win or a loss, but at the end of the day you were yourself.” Dayo Greenway, Ahkei’s mother, clearly appreciates Poetry Out Loud and what it has meant to her son. “Poetry Out Loud has given Ahkei the opportunity to develop and share his gift as a spoken word artist.”

    In remarks following the announcement of his win, Ahkei expressed gratitude to his family and his teachers, Ms. Alice Ellis, Mrs. Jenna Free, and Mrs. Tuckerman, all of whom supported him in his journey to the championship. Following high school graduation, Ahkei will attend the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York this fall as a theatre major.

    Margaret Vanderhye, executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, said on behalf of the Commission: “We are thrilled for this young, artistic, and gifted student and for the example he provides as the face of the next creative generation in Virginia. We offer Ahkei our congratulations and our hopes for a bright successful future in New York. And of course we hope that someday he will bring his talents back to Virginia!”

    Finalists for Poetry Out Loud, the nation’s largest youth poetry recitation competition, were selected in a process that began with an initial field of more than 317,000 students. They participated in their respective school, regional and state contests en route to the national championships at the Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University from May 2-4th.

    To find out more about Virginia’s Poetry Out program visit http://www.arts.virginia.gov/programs_POL.html.


    The Virginia Commission for the Arts is the state agency that supports the arts through funding from the Virginia General Assembly and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Commission distributes grants to arts and other not-for-profit organizations, educational institutions, educators, artists, and local governments.

    For more information about the Virginia Commission for the Arts, visit www.arts.virginia.gov or call (804) 225-3132.

    Media Contact

    Executive Director
    Virginia Commission for the Arts
    1001 East Broad Street, Suite 330
    Richmond, Virginia 23219


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