Endashaw performing at state.

Meet Poetry Out Loud State Winner and Nationalist: Yohanna Endashaw!

Apr 17, 2023

Sophomore Yohanna Endashaw advanced to the national division in Poetry Out Loud after being the Illinois champion at state on March 13 in Springfield. She first competed and won a school poetry competition against 20 other students from Niles West. She then competed at the regional division against students from the suburbs of Chicago at the Poetry Foundation in downtown Chicago and won runner-up to advance to state.

I was excited [to make regionals] because last year I did it all online, so I was excited to go in person because I just do better where there’s an actual audience in front of me. For state, that was really exciting because we got to actually travel I got to meet some pretty cool people,” Endashaw said. 

Endashaw will be heading to Washington D.C. on May 8 where she will compete and recite poetry on the national level.

At nationals, Endashaw will be reciting the poems, “My Therapist Wants to Know about My Relationship to Work” by Tiana Clark and “Siren Song” by Maragret Awood. If she advances past the semi-finals at nationals, Endashaw will be reciting “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus during the final round of nationals. 

Right now my favorite poem is ‘Siren Song’ because it’s just hilarious and I love performing it because I feel like I understand it so much,” Endashaw said.

Endashaw spends her free periods and mornings before school with her Poetry Out Loud coaches and English teachers Sharon Swanson and Sally Graham who she recites the poems to and receives feedback from to prepare for nationals.

“Yohanna is an amazing student. She takes intellectual risks by choosing challenging poems, and she is willing to practice over and over again–nothing deters her. I admire her intellectual ability as well as her determination. There was a hushed ‘wow’ in the crowd [at the state competition] when she finished her first poem, ‘My Therapist Wants to Know About My Relationship to Work,’ and I was happy to see that the audience appreciated her performance,” Graham said.

There’s many components to getting a good score on poetry readings, and a lot Endashaw has to think about while performing. Poetry Out Loud scores poetry reciting based on evidence of understanding, internalization of the poem, physical presence on stage and dramatic appropriateness.

One thing Endashaw focuses on when performing is feeling the emotions of the poem and trying to relate to what the author is talking about. She wants the audience to feel what the poem intends to convey through her reading and acting.

Endashaw’s introduction to poetry was in middle school, but she become more interested in it in 7th grade during the pandemic. She also performed poems for families of her school in elementary school.

I read this book, ‘The Poet X’ by Elizabeth Acevedo, and it was about this girl who liked to write her own poetry, and it was during the pandemic so I feel like that book literally saved me because that’s when I got into poetry. I wrote a lot of poetry in middle school for this writing club but I didn’t as much in high school until I did Poetry Out Loud my freshman year. I won the school competition freshman year, but I wasn’t able to do well at regionals and then this year I went to state. Honestly, this is like the most time I’ve spent with poetry and I love it,” Endashaw said. 

Outside of competing in poetry competitions, Endashaw is a double-sport athlete, and in many other activities here at West.`

I don’t always have as much time for poetry as I’d like to. I play basketball as well here and volleyball and I also love to read and bake when I have free time. I’m also involved in orchestra and I’m really passionate about UNICEF and I’m planning on doing that all four years as well,” Endashaw said.

Throughout her journey, Endashaw has had many friends and family members supporting her.

We’ve been friends since kindergarten so we’ve been friends for a long time. Yohanna’s always been like that kind of person when she says things, everyone’s listening. I noticed that in every presentation we used to do in middle school, she was so good at presenting so I’m not even surprised that she won. Like I was like, ‘Oh she’s got this.’ I’m really proud of her,” sophomore Nichelle Thomas said.  

I feel like my friends have been cheering me on this entire time. [They] have been so supportive through all this and I was texting them at state like, ‘I’m in the final five,’ and then I was like, ‘I won!.’ And then my parents too because they have to listen to me practice a lot. And my little sister because, she’s been listening to me practice so much that she actually memorized the poems and she’s seven,” Endashaw said. 

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