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Bringing Her Genuine Self to the National Stage: A Conversation with the Poetry Out Loud National Champion

  • IAC
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  • Current: POL National Champion Interview

Poetry Out Loud Champion, Sreepadaarchana Munjuluri, discusses her journey to the national stage and how she uses poetry as a tool to communicate social issues on a more personal level.

Munjuluri  competed against 54 state and jurisdictional champions, and was named the national champion on May 10.

Image Courtesy of National Endowment for the Arts.

Confetti poured from the ceiling and the audience roared as Sreepadaarchana Munjuluri, a junior at Columbus North Central High School was announced as the 2023 Poetry Out Loud National Champion.

Munjuluri, the Indiana State Champion, represented the Hoosier State at the National Finals in Washington D.C. where she competed in a field of 54 state and jurisdictional champions over two days on May 9 and May 10. Many Hoosiers tuned in to watch the livestream of her performance, watching the news of her national championship unfurl before their eyes.

“Backstage I was really nervous and jittery, but once I got on stage and took a minute to look at the audience and realize that I’m talking to real people — not to robots, or something that would automatically give me a grade — it eased my nerves,” Munjuluri said. “A mindset that helped me was remembering that I wasn’t doing this for the prize or the competition, I was doing this for myself and to honor these poets that have brought such beautiful work into the world.”

In fact, Munjuluri said, the competition stopped feeling like a competition as she watched her fellow contestants stand on stage and perform poems that were meaningful to them.

“The shared experience of coming together and speaking about what is important to us made a lot of us begin to ignore the fact that it was a competition,” Munjuluri said. "Throughout the competition we began to realize that there is something inspiring in each and every one of us.”

The poems Munjuluri recited throughout this year’s competition cycle— “Say Grace” by Emily Jungmin Yoon, “New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus, and “The Legend” by Garret Hongo—were all selected by Munjuluri because she felt a deep, personal connection with each poem.

“Any time I read those poems, I would always really feel what they were saying. The fact that they have meaning and significance to me helped me express the sentiments of those poems on stage better,” Munjuluri said.

Because the poems had a personal touch on Munjuluri’s life and experience, it helped her to better follow this advice from her coach, Dr. Adam Henze:

Bring your genuine self to the stage.

Henze suggested that, rather than putting on a performance or becoming a character, the best way to connect with the audience is to show them a part of yourself. Munjuluri not only followed this advice but used it to make sure that her performance shed light on some important issues.

“Say Grace by Emily Jungmin Yoon is about religious oppression and the pain and trauma that many people go through across the globe. Through my performance, I wanted people to feel the impact of these,” Munjuluri said. “I think it is very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the different news stories that land every day, and I don’t think we really connect with a lot of issues as deeply as we do when we hear a first-person perspective on them. When you show people what it feels like and what it means to be a person there at the scene, I think you touch them in a whole new way, and I think people can see the impact of these issues in a much bigger way."

In the future, she hopes to be a global health advocate and believes that communication through various mediums — such as poetry — is the key to solving the world’s problems and is the most beautiful aspect of the human experience.

“Poetry Out Loud helped solidify the fact that the arts are something that is very important to me, and that literature is something that I want to carry with me in whatever I do next,” she said. “I know that I will always keep literature close to me.”

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national arts education program that encourages the study of great poetry by offering free educational materials and a dynamic recitation competition for high school students across the country. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the state and jurisdictional arts agencies. Munjuluri competed in the 2022-2023 program through an outreach program lead by Indiana Humaities.The IAC has partnered with Indiana Humanities to administer the Poetry Out Loud program for the 2023-2024 school year. Visit Indiana Humanities to learn more about this year's program.

Post Author: Téa Franco, Communications Manager