Colorado Teen Rize Simmons Wins State Poetry Out Loud Competition

Headed to National Finals to represent Colorado in Washington, DC

DENVER — Gov. Polis, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), a division of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT), and Empowered are pleased to announce that Rize Simmons of Windsor High School in Weld County has been named the 2024 Colorado Poetry Out Loud State Champion. Simmons will advance to the national competition in April.

“As the son of a poet, I understand the value poetry and the arts bring to students, and all Coloradans. Poetry brings people together, uplifts those who are struggling, and serves as an important outlet for personal expression. I am proud of all the Colorado poets showcased during this competition and congratulate Rize Simmons on this exciting achievement, and wish him luck as he represents Colorado on the national stage,” said Governor Polis.

Poetry Out Loud is a national arts education program that encourages high school students to learn about classic and contemporary poetry through memorization, performance, and competition. Since the program began in 2005, more than four million students across the country have participated in Poetry Out Loud.
“Poetry and creative writing have the power to inspire and move us, and we are proud to congratulate Rize for winning the Poetry Out Loud competition and moving on to the national competition,” said First Gentleman Marlon Reis. “Winning this competition takes a lot of literary creativity, passion, and dedication, and is something our community celebrates. Colorado is proud of you and we will be cheering you on at nationals.”

This afternoon, 11 students from 11 Colorado schools competed at the annual state finals at the Denver Center for Performing Arts—The Randy Weeks Conservatory Theatre. This year’s event was attended by Governor Polis, emceed by award-winning poet and author Dominique Christina and judged by some of Colorado’s finest poets: Kerrie Joy, Ashley Cornelius, Joe Hutchinson, and Meca’Ayo.

Rize Simmons, from Windsor High School, had the highest scores for his performance of  “Songs for the People,” by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, “Black Boys Play the Classics,” by Toi Derricotte, and “The Song of the Smoke,” by W. E. B. Du Bois. As State Champion, Simmons will receive $500 and an all-expense paid trip to Washington D.C., with an adult chaperone to compete in the Poetry Out Loud national competition. Windsor High School will also receive $500 for the purchase of poetry materials.

When asked what draws him to poetry, Simmons said, “I appreciate how in a poem, every word has a purpose on the page. I like thinking about how the poet put it there for a reason.

Hana Kebede, the 2023 Colorado Poetry Out Loud champion, from Overland High School in Aurora, was first runner up, receiving $100 along with $200 for her school. Lorena Orozco, from Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, was second runner up.

A total of $50,000 in awards and school/organization stipends will be given at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals, held from April 30 - May 2, 2024, including a $20,000 award for the National Champion, $10,000 for second place, $5,000 for third place, and $1,000 for fourth through ninth places. The Colorado Poetry Out Loud competition is overseen by CCI and Empowered to encourage young Colorado performers to bring the words of great poets to life and celebrate the role of poetry in literary history and contemporary life.

"Poetry Out Loud pairs the power and imagery of poets from across the globe with the inspirational gifts of America's most outspoken youth today," said CCI Director Josh Blanchard. "Rize shared such passion and talent, breathing life into W. E. B. Du Bois’ scribed words. All of us at CCI applaud his success and will be cheering him on as he represents Colorado at the national competition."

“Poetry empowers youth to discover their voices and explore the depths of creative self-expression. We are thrilled to celebrate Rize’s win as he competes in the national competition with youth from across the U.S.,” said Jesse Martinez, CEO of Empowered.

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