Oak Park student wins honors at poetry competition
Chelsea Dixon (left) and Delaney Miller (right) said Spoken Word teammate Natalie Richardson (center) made them proud. The teens all attend Oak Park-River Forest High School. | Rebecca R. Bibbs~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 18, 2013 11:19PM
OAK PARK — Natalie Richardson had to put herself into another time, another place, indeed, another body as she assumed the persona of music legend Ray Charles, allowing his melodic drawl to rise out of her onstage.
“Performance is my favorite part, especially with this one because it’s so theatrical. And taking on someone else’s persona is so challenging,” the Oak Park and River Forest High School senior said.
Natalie, 17, received the Literary Award for the most well-written poem before a sold-out crowd of 3,000 at the Louder Than a Bomb 2013 poetry competition Saturday, March 9 at Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre. Her poem, “Ray,” was selected for the honor by two-time National Poetry Slam champion Roger Bonair-Agard. Those in attendance consider this the evening’s highest honor since it was given by a professional poet.
Camara Brown finished second in the individual performance finals March 6 at the Chicago Cultural Center. That performance was attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
OPRF’s six-member Spoken Word team finished third out of nine in the finals. They reached the finals from a field of 117 teams eliminated over three weeks.
In addition to Natalie and Camara, team members include Hannah Srajer, Haywood McDuffie III, Delaney Miller, and Chelsea Dixon.
The high school’s Spoken Word program encompasses the entirety of the freshman and sophomore classes, with a dedicated teacher, Jay Lind, spending a week in each English class. Those who are particularly interested in performance poetry are invited to join the Spoken Word Club, which has about 100 members.
OPRF’s Louder Than a Bomb team members were selected through a process that included not only auditions but also took into consideration grades and participation in other team events throughout the school year.
Natalie, has participated in the after-school program for three years, a daily three-hour commitment that’s forced her to give up theater and volleyball.
Accepted at the University of Chicago but also interested in studying English and science at Brown University or Swarthmore College, Natalie said she was inspired to write the personification poem after listening to a great deal of blues over the summer. She started writing over the winter break as part of an assignment.
“It was really hard. It was one of the hardest poems I’ve ever written. I couldn’t talk to him or interview him,” she said. “I tried to encompass how he might be in the private sphere. I also tried to include my own ideas about how to lose yourself to your art, to something you love.”
Delaney, 17, said she was “bummed” by the team’s overall placement, but Natalie’s win helped make up for it.
“I was really, really happy for her. She definitely deserved it. It was awesome she won considering our placement,” the junior said.
Sophomore Chelsea, 16, agreed that Natalie’s win validated the hard work of the team.
“That was like my favorite moment of the night. She did deserve it because it was the best poem on the stage. Just sayin’.” she said.
Lind, who has attended 12 of the 13 Louder Than a Bomb competitions, said this year’s team was the best he ever had.
“I thought having the finals at the Cadillac Palace Theatre changed everything,” he said. “It really raised the stakes for all the students to feel they were giving real credence to their stories. I think it really made the kids feel it was more important, to be treated that way.”