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Artist Spotlight

Artist Spotlight- Rayann Hijazi

By April 19, 2024No Comments

Encouraging involvement in the humanities has always been challenging, especially for public school students. Programs like Poetry Out Loud, an arts education program promoting spoken word poetry, seeks to overcome these challenges. But for 16-year-old Rayann Hijazi, it comes as naturally as breathing. Rayann is Nevada’s student representative who will be competing in Poetry Out Loud at the national level in Washington, D.C. from April 30 to May 2.

Rayann is charmingly spirited. We met after she got out of school at a café, and she very kindly waited for me to add cream and sugar to my coffee. If there’s one thing she has, it’s manners (and writing skills). Hijazi is eager to discuss poetry, which is a rare quality in someone so young. Her eyes light up at the start of our chat and stay burning throughout.

“Even though I do want to go into the medical field,” Hijazi says. “And even though I am so invested in my academics, I definitely try and work English into other places in my life.”

Hijazi, who is a junior at Coral Academy of Science High School, wants to enter the medical field and is motivated by helping people. She’s considering out-of-state options as well as the University of Nevada, Reno, but isn’t sure what route she’ll take yet. She views competing in Poetry Out Loud as a way of connecting with her love of language.

Rayann beat between nine and ten competitors at the county level (she competed against other high schoolers in Washoe County). The Nevada competition involved six competitors, all representing a different county across the state. Each student chose a selection of poems to read aloud, and then were judged based on their recitation skills.

“I usually have a fear of doing things that I don’t know if I’m automatically going to be good at,” Hijazi says. “It’s kinda scary, but I’ve started to come out of my shell in that way.”

For the Nevada state finals, Rayann read “What Women Are Made Of” by Bianca Lynne Spriggs, “Truth Serum” by Naomi Shihab Nye, and “The Paradox” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar. These poems cover a variety of social topics, from womanhood to the power of truth. For nationals, Hijazi will again choose from a list of pre-approved poems. The Poetry Out Loud organization also pays for airfare to D.C.. The first, second, and third place winners of the national competition will receive cash prizes.  

She was encouraged to apply for Poetry Out Loud by her English teacher, Mr. Lydon. A student as invested as Rayann is a rare occurrence at a science high school. Participating in Poetry Out Loud was an extra credit assignment for his class, but Rayann saw it as a passion project. 

“As soon as I came to high school, [Mr. Lydon]  and I really connected because of our love for English,” Hijazi says. “I think I kinda stood out from other students because I’m so passionate about that subject.”

In terms of her own poetry, she’s usually inspired by everyday interaction. She hears certain words and thinks about how a certain line or phrase could fit into a poem. Hijazi sees this as elevation; the ultimate peak is the completed poem itself.

In one untitled poem, Hijazi writes about heartache. She writes, “somewhere along the thin, sloping line/anger became sadness/sadness became grief/grief became longing.” It’s hard to believe that so much talent is encapsulated in someone so young, but Hijazi is living, breathing proof. Her writing sounds like it should come from the pen of someone ten years her senior, which makes it all the more impressive.

“I wouldn’t consider myself a people person, because everyone needs a break at some point,” Hijazi says. “But I do like talking to people and I do like reaching people. I think that comes through in Poetry Out Loud and with my interest in the medical field.”

Hijazi’s command of a room when performing is comparable to her command of her future. Between Poetry Out Loud and her post-graduation goals, she has more of a plan than most college students do. Keep an eye on this up-and-coming poet– she knows what she wants, and she’s taking it.

Rayann doesn’t have social media, but you can learn more about her here. 

The National Poetry Out Loud competition will be held in Washington, D.C. from April 30 to May 2.