Monday, April 20, 2015

Extraordinary Performances by Teen Poets Amaze Audience

2015 WORD UP! winners are (from left to right) Trinity Packer, Third Place
Winner; Whitney McWilliams, Second Place Winner; and Miaya Webster,
First Place Winner

Sixteen young poets, representing high schools from throughout Jefferson County, gave heartfelt performances during the 2015 WORD UP! poetry competition. Over 100 people were in attendance. They clapped and gave “shout outs” to show their appreciation for the extraordinary performances.

WORD UP! is a poetry slam for high school students enrolled in schools—or home schooled—in Jefferson County. Sponsored by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL) System and Real Life Poets (RLP), the event was held on Saturday, April 11, at 3:00 p.m. in the Richard Arrington, Jr. Auditorium of BPL’s Central Library. Students in grades 9 through 12 wrote and performed an original work of poetry inspired by a theme selected by the WORD UP! planning committee. The theme for this year’s WORD UP! was “Survive.” Each participating high school held a preliminary contest, and the winners from each school competed in the final WORD UP! competition. The contestants competed for cash prizes and were rated on content and performance by a panel of three judges.

Miaya Webster, a senior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA), took the first place trophy and a $300 cash prize; second place winner Whitney McWilliams, also of ASFA, received $200; and third place winner, Trinity Packer of Shades Valley High School, received $150. Miaya was the second place winner at last year’s WORD UP! and took third place in 2013. Jim Reed served as the emcee of WORD UP!. The judges were Will Gillette (first place winner of 2010 WORD UP!); Tomika Glenn (performance poet who has been the top winner at the BPL’s Bards and Brews slams); and Sharrif Simmons (local performance artist, songwriter, and activist who has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam and has toured extensively in Europe).

In all, ten high schools were represented at this year’s slam. The schools included Birmingham’s Wenonah; Jefferson County’s Center Point, Clay-Chalkville, and Shades Valley; Alabama School of Fine Arts (ASFA); Bessemer; Hewitt-Trussville; Holy Family Cristo Rey; Homewood and Mountain Brook. For those students determined to go even further, BPL and RLP will help sponsor a spoken-word team to compete in this year’s Brave New Voices (BNV) International Youth Poetry Competition in Atlanta, Georgia. BNV is the worldwide standard in spoken word poetry competitions for teens since 1998. In 2013, BNV was held in Chicago and for the first time in the history of the festival, a small but dedicated group of Birmingham-area teens who called themselves Team #KnowDisclaimer competed. They did well enough to go on to the semi-finals—a feat almost unheard of by first time teams. The teens’ perseverance and talents, along with the help and encouragement of BPL and RLP, made this successful bid possible.

Word UP! 2015 is made possible in part by grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. For additional information, visit the WORD UP! webpage at

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