Announcing the 2020 DC Poet Project winner

During an online poetry reading event held April 18th-19th more than two thousand participants watched videos by the competing finalists and voted to select Mecca Verdell the winner. Over a 27-hour period Mecca Verdell’s video received nearly 400 votes, almost 100 more than the next competing finalists – Laura McCarty, Dinahsta Kiane, and Merkury Gold. Due to the Coronavirus quarantine the 2020 DC Poet Project culminating poetry reading and selection vote was held online and utilizing voting by social media. The screenshot above captures the view/vote tally at 3:00 pm Sunday April 19th, the final moment of voting.

Poet Mecca Verdell and friends at the Southern Fried poetry slam 2018
Poet Mecca Verdell and friends at the Southern Fried poetry slam 2018

“Our 2020 winner, Mecca Verdell, is an exceptional poet. All of us on the board are excited to support publication of her forthcoming book and to support her success going forward,” wrote poet and Day Eight Board Chair Gregory Luce. “Mecca writes with biting humor and clarity about some of the most important challenges humans face in the world.” 

Click here to watch Verdell’s Poet Project winning finalist video, produced by project partner Brink Media.

Luce added, “When Day Eight launched the Poet Project four years ago we envisioned it as a way to support local poets. Almost thirty area poets have featured in the reading series, and about three times that number have performed at the open mics. Each year the culminating reading of the Poet Project is one of my favorite events because of the quality of the finalists. And even though we had to have it online, I was moved by the power and quality of all of the finalists.”

Day Eight will now publish Verdell’s book.

Poet Project director Robert Bettmann conducted the following email interview with 2020 winner Mecca Verdell:

Robert Bettmann: Congratulations on your win! Is this the first poetry competition you entered?

2020 DC Poet Project winner Mecca Verdell

Mecca Verdell: I have been doing slam poetry competitions for more than four years, but this is the first competition where I was able to win a book deal. I started competing while I was in high school and have won a few competitions including Brave New Voices 2016, and the 2017 and 2018 Southern Fried regional poetry slam. I also placed fourth in the International World Poetry Slam in 2019. That’s a big competition so that was really a big deal to me.

RB: When did you start writing poetry?

MV: I started writing my senior year of high school. An old friend brought me into a poetry club where I met close friends and a teacher who would eventually become my mentor. My love of poetry was very unexpected. In some ways it started with my love for competing and then grew to me really wanting to work on my craft.

RB: Do you have a favorite poet?

MV: My mentor, Lady Brion, is amazing. She inspires me to be a better writer. Her writing is so powerful because of how she talks about community, and blackness. And she practices what she preaches as an activist. I feel that’s an important thing for poets who speak for our communities to do.

RB: Are you also a poetry educator?

MV: Yes, I am. I actually teach at my old high school, where my mentor taught me. But I love teaching to all ages, across the country. There’s nothing better than seeing what people can create from your prompts and lessons.

RB: Several of the poems in your reading referenced your experiences with family. Do you live with your family still?

MV: Yes, I live with my family, and it has its ups and downs, but when I started doing poetry I think it helped improve our communication. Even if I talk about the bad things my family are still proud of me.

RB: I’m pretty sure you’re our youngest winner so far. What are some future projects you’re working toward?

MV: Yes, I’m 22, going on 23 in June! I’m currently working on two poetry operas. I have lots of ideas but those are the most demanding, and my favorite to imagine. I can’t wait to bring them to life.

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The 2020 Poet Project was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Wells Fargo Community Foundation, and made possible through partnerships with Brink Media, the Anacostia Coordinating Council, We Act Radio, Martha’s Table, and the participation of featured poets Venus Thrash, Daria-Ann Martineau, Kevin Wiggins, Naomi Ayala, Shaquetta Nelson, Malik Crumpler, Jeffrey Banks, John Johnson, E Ethelbert Miller, Regie Cabico, Antwone Ross, Gregory Luce, Kim Miller, and Anne Becker. The project was directed by Robert Bettmann with Stuart Anderson and hosts Liz Ashe and Aaron Holmes.

Are you a DC-area artist? Day Eight seeks to license an artwork for the cover of Mecca Verdell’s forthcoming book. Please submit your artwork for consideration using the online form. [Submission period closed.]