Student Recites Poetry and Reels in $20,000 Scholarship

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As a young tyke, Amanda Fernandez enjoyed re-enacting her favorite movie scenes with a little help from her teddy bear collection Who knew she was priming herself to become a national poetry champ?

In May Fernandez, 18, became the 2007 Poetry Out Loud champion, a two-year-old program that encourages students nationwide to study poetry. For her emotional performance of three poems - "Dulce et Decorum Est" by Wilfred Owen, "Ma Rainey" by Sterling A. Brown and "Unknown Girl in the Maternity Ward" by Anne Sexton, the Duke Ellington School of the Arts graduate beat out 11 finalists and took home a $20,000 scholarship.

"I got a lot of response from everybody," says Fernandez, who is half-Cuban. "As long as the audience can connect, then my job is done."

More than 100,000 students competed at the local level in the contest, created by the Poetry Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. That number dwindled to 5 1 state winners, of which Fernandez would make the final 12. Fernandez says she connected to each poem on a special level - it showed.

"I was not at all surprised that she won," says Dan Stone, creative director of Poetry Out Loud. …