Riley O’Hara of Sonoma County Named California’s 2024 Poetry Out Loud State Champion

SACRAMENTO, CA – Riley O’Hara of Sonoma County is this year’s California Poetry Out Loud state champion. A high-school sophomore from Sonoma Valley High School, the 16-year-old O’Hara took first place in the statewide recitation competition held March 17 and 18 in Sacramento. He will go on to represent the state of California at the Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest beginning April 29 in Washington, D.C.

The 2024 State Finals marked the 19th year of California Poetry Out Loud, which encourages youth to learn about poetry through memorization and performance. This year also marked the first time in four years that the program returned from its modified virtual format during the COVID-19 pandemic to a live, in-person, two-day event.

Students representing 51 counties competed for the state title. A program listing of all 2024 county champions is available here.

O’Hara recited “We Are Not Responsible” by Harryette Mullen, “Sonnet 29: When, in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes” by William Shakespeare and “1969” by Alex Dimitrov. His English teacher is Travis Beall.

Mirabelle Lee, a 17-year-old junior at Palm Valley High School in Riverside County, was runner-up and will represent California in the national finals in the event O’Hara is unable to attend. Selah Johnson, a 16-year-old sophomore from The Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles County, received an honorable mention.

Since 2019, California’s county champions have also been invited to submit original written works at the state level through the Poetry Ourselves creative writing contest. The winning piece for 2024, “Facing,” was written by 17-year-old Mendocino High School junior and Mendocino County Poetry Out Loud champion Frej Barty. Barty was invited to recite his original piece before a live audience during the first day of the state finals on Sunday, March 17.

Chloe Chou, a 16-year-old junior at Westmoor High School in San Mateo County, was selected as runner-up with her submission, titled “ars poetica with baba’s eighty-five inch tv,” and 17-year-old Alondra Gutierrez, a senior at Mission Oak High School in Tulare County, received third place for her poem, “The Golden State.”

All three contestants’ poems will be featured on the California Poetry Out Loud website.

“These last two days of the California State Finals of Poetry Out Loud have been joyful, exhilarating and deeply moving,” said California Poet Laureate and event host Lee Herrick. “I’m proud of all the county champions and wish them well, and I hope they’ll continue to have poetry in their lives.”

“California is in great hands—witnessing these 51 champions represent regions throughout our great state was inspiring,” said California Arts Council Executive Director Danielle Brazell. “Their poise, their grace, their presence continue to reverberate and echo through the chambers. I know they will continue to use their creative power to uplift their communities and create a future where we all thrive.”

About Poetry Out Loud

An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts and Poetry Foundation, administered by the California Arts Council, Poetry Out Loud inspires in high school students the confidence to make themselves heard, using one of the most powerful tools at their disposal—art. Students are given the opportunity to interact with the words of renowned literary figures through recitation, building a relationship with the works and creating a sense of shared ownership branded by their own technique of volume, pitch, pace, and personal point of view.

The California Poetry Out Loud State Finals is the culminating competition between county winners who have shown their merit in the classroom, school, district, and county (a pyramid competition structure similar to a spelling bee). California’s Poetry Out Loud is the largest event of its kind in the U.S. and has grown steadily since its inception.

The state champion receives $200 and a trip to Washington, D.C., to compete in the national Poetry Out Loud finals, paid for by the National Endowment from the Arts. The winner’s school will also receive $500 for poetry materials. The State Finals runner-up will receive a $100 cash prize, with $200 awarded to their school for book purchases. Competing at the Poetry Out Loud National Finals presents the opportunity for approximately $50,000 in scholarship funds and related winnings.

About Poetry Ourselves

The California Poetry Out Loud program also incorporates a creative writing component of the competition, Poetry Ourselves, offered for the sixth year in a row. County champions are invited to submit an original written poem of no more than 50 lines, judged anonymously by a guest judge. The winner receives $100; poems by the winner, runner-up, and honorable mention recipients will be recognized and featured on the California Poetry Out Loud website.

Participating Counties

Finalists from the following counties competed at the 2024 California Poetry Out Loud State Finals: Alameda, Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, Contra Costa, Del Norte, El Dorado, Fresno, Humboldt, Imperial, Inyo, Lake, Los Angeles, Madera, Marin, Mariposa, Mendocino, Merced, Modoc, Mono, Monterey, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Placer, Plumas, Riverside, Sacramento, San Benito, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, San Joaquin, San Luis Obispo, San Mateo, Santa Barbara, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Shasta, Sierra, Sonoma, Stanislaus, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity, Tulare, Tuolumne, Ventura, Yolo, and Yuba.

Media Inquiries Only:
Kimberly Brown
Public Affairs Specialist

Questions about the state Poetry Out Loud program can be directed to


The California Arts Council is a state agency with a mission of strengthening arts, culture, and creative expression as the tools to cultivate a better California for all. It supports local arts infrastructure and programming statewide through grants, initiatives, and services. The California Arts Council envisions a California where all people flourish with universal access to and participation in the arts.

Members of the California Arts Council include: Roxanne Messina Captor, Chair; Leah Goodwin, Vice Chair; Gerald Clarke; Caleb Duarte; Vicki Estrada; Ellen Gavin; Roy Hirabayashi; Alex Israel; Phil Mercado; Nicola Miner; and Olivia Raynor. Learn more at

The California Arts Council is committed to increasing the accessibility of its online content. For language and accessibility assistance, visit To read this announcement in Spanish, please use the website’s Google Translate tool by clicking the “Translate” link in the upper righthand corner of this page.

El Consejo de las Artes de California se compromete a aumentar la accesibilidad de sus contenidos en línea. Para obtener ayuda con el idioma y la accesibilidad, visite leer este anuncio en español, utilice la herramienta Google Translate del sitio web haciendo clic en el enlace “Traducir” situado en la esquina superior derecha de esta página.

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