NJ Poetry Out Loud Champion Lydia Smith and State Runner-Up Connor Gargiulo.

Lydia Smith, a junior from Henry Hudson Regional High School in Highlands, was named State Champion at the 2023 New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Finals, part of the National Poetry Out Loud recitation program. The competition took place on March 6th at Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, NJ.

Smith will represent New Jersey at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals in Washington D.C. on May 8 – 10, 2023. State Champions will compete for the national Poetry Out Loud title and the chance to win prizes, including college scholarships.

Connor Gargiulo, a senior from West Milford High School in West Milford, earned the title of State Runner-Up.

Poetry Out Loud 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. Poetry Out Loud is a partnership of the National Endowment for the Arts, Poetry Foundation, and the 55 state and jurisdictional arts agencies.

“What a joy it has been to host this year’s Poetry Out Loud finalists from across the Garden State,” said Adam Philipson, President and CEO, Count Basie Center for the Arts. “The Count Basie Center was proud to partner with the New Jersey State Council on the Arts in presenting this year’s competition, and we look forward to watching Lydia represent New Jersey in the national competition in May.”

The State Finals was the culmination of a statewide initiative that began in the fall of 2022 and included 10,179 New Jersey students from 64 high schools and organizations across the state.

“It is extremely exciting to return to hosting the Poetry Out Loud State Finals in-person,” said Kevin O’Brien, Chair of the Arts Education Committee of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts. “The energy these students have brought to this program – throughout the year – is electric, and there’s nothing quite like watching their passion for poetry come alive onstage. The Council is proud of this year’s State Finalists, and we look forward to cheering on Lydia Smith at the National Competition. We know she will make New Jersey proud!”

Congratulations to all who participated, including the regional finalists:

Kailan Cass-Adams-Johnson, from Mainland Regional High School in Linwood

Gwendolyn Chung, from Dr. Ronald E. McNair High School in Jersey City

Jake Fredericks, from Red Bank Regional High School in Little Silver

Daila Kim, from Livingston High School in Livingston

Victoria King, from Rancocas Valley Regional High School in Mount Holly

Amya Martinez, from North Star Academy Washington Park in Newark

Leanna Mentone, from Vernon Township High School in Vernon

Avanti Patwardhan, from Bridgewater-Raritan High School in Bridgewater Township

For more information about New Jersey Poetry Out Loud and the National Finals, visit

A video of the New Jersey Poetry Out Loud State Finals will be posted on NJPOL’s YouTube page in the coming weeks.

New Jersey Poetry Out Loud is a project of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts and the Count Basie Center for the ArtsPoetry Out Loud is a national arts education program, led by the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation, in partnership with the state and jurisdictional arts agencies across the country. In New Jersey, the State Arts Council and the Basie work with a growing network of regional partners to implement the program statewide.

The Count Basie Center for the Arts is New Jersey’s premier center for the cultural arts, dedicated to fostering powerful, inclusive artistic experiences and creative exchange of ideas. The Basie mission is to inspire, educate and entertain through its distinct and engaging cultural and artistic offerings that embrace and amplify the diversity of the region. As a nonprofit organization, the Basie is committed to enriching the community’s quality of life by generating opportunities for participation in the arts, partnering with schools, collaborating with other mission-based organizations and driving regional economic prosperity.

The New Jersey State Council on the Arts, created in 1966, is a division of the NJ Department of State and a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. The Council was established to encourage and foster public interest in the arts; enlarge public and private resources devoted to the arts; promote freedom of expression in the arts; and facilitate the inclusion of art in every public building in New Jersey. The Council believes the arts are central to every element we value most in a modern society including: human understanding; cultural and civic pride; strong communities; excellent schools; lifelong learning; creative expression; and economic opportunity. To learn more about the Council, please visit  

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