Birmingham Public Library Inviting Students to Participate in WORD UP! Spoken Word Competition

photo of three WORD UP! 2015 winners
The 2015 WORD UP! winners left to right:
 Trinity Packer, Shades Valley High School (3rd place)
Whitney McWilliams, Alabama School of Fine Arts (2nd place)

Miaya Webster, Alabama School of Fine Arts (1st place)

The Birmingham Public Library (BPL) is inviting young poets in Jefferson County to participate in WORD UP!, a poetry slam for students enrolled in high schools—or homeschooled—in Jefferson County.

The ninth annual event will be held on Sunday, April 10, at 3:00 p.m., in the Arrington Auditorium at the Central Library. The slam is sponsored by BPL and Real Life Poets, a non-profit creative writing organization based in Birmingham. Students in grades 9 through 12 write and perform an original work of poetry inspired by a theme selected by the WORD UP! planning committee. The theme for WORD UP! 2016 is “Speak Out!”

Visit the WORD UP! webpage for details at

Each participating high school holds a preliminary contest, and the winners from each school compete in the WORD UP! competition. The deadline for schools to sign on to participate is February 19. For more information, call 205-226-3670 or e-mail Each school should designate a staff person, usually a teacher or school librarian, to be the WORD UP! liaison.

The contestants are judged on content and performance by a panel of three judges and compete for cash prizes. The first place winner receives $300, second place $200, and third place $150.

“These young poets put an incredible amount of work into this slam and learn invaluable lessons about public speaking—how to engage an audience, use body language effectively, and stay composed under pressure,” said Haruyo Miyagawa, WORD UP! coordinator and head of the Arts, Literature and Sports Department at the Birmingham Public Library. “These skills will really benefit them in future academic and career pursuits.”

Teen poets can up their game by attending free workshops leading up to the slam. The January 30 session will be led by Tina Mozelle Braziel, and the February 27 session will be led by John Paul Taylor. Both sessions will take place from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. in the Story Castle on the second floor of the Central Library. Registration is recommended. For more information, call 205-226-3670 or e-mail

For those students determined to go even further, BPL and Real Life Poets will help sponsor a spoken-word team to compete in next year’s Brave New Voices International Youth Poetry Competition, a worldwide standard in spoken word poetry competitions for teens since 1998. Brave New Voices 2013 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 and did well enough to go on to the semi-finals, a feat almost unheard of by first time teams.

Students from Birmingham City Schools, Jefferson County Schools, Mountain Brook High, Hewitt-Trussville, Tarrant, and independent schools such as Alabama School of Fine Arts and Holy Family Cristo Rey Catholic High School, are among school systems throughout Jefferson County that have been represented in past WORD UP! slams.