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Interview with BuzzFeed LGBT Editor and alum, Saeed Jones, Nats14 results, and more!
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Summer 2014 Alumni Newsletter
This June we hosted the 2014 National Tournament in Overland Park, Kansas. More than 4,000 students representing more than 1,100 schools competed in the National Speech & Debate Tournament. Additionally, international students from a number of countries including Korea, China, and Bulgaria competed in an international debate competition in Overland Park. More than $65,000 in scholarships were awarded to finalists. In addition to five days of intense competition, the 2014 attendees broke the GUINNESS WORLD RECORDS for Most People Sending a Text Message Simultaneously, and humorist writer, David Sedaris, judged the final round of Humorous Interpretation. 

Saeed Jones is the editor of BuzzFeed LGBT, and author of When the Only Light is Fire. He competed for Lewisville High School in Lewisville, Texas. His senior year he won the final round of Original Oratory in 2004 placing 2nd overall, and was coached by Sally Squibb and Liana Massengale, His latest collection of poems, Prelude to Bruise, comes out September 1.

What inspired you to become a writer?
My mother’s bookshelf. It was in the center of our living room and had books by writers like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, and James Baldwin. I started reading them when I was in middle school and it felt like I was suddenly breathing a cleaner, fresher kind of air. Those books saved my life. They taught me how to make a way forward for myself in this world. I was and still am so grateful for those writers. I aspire to have a similar impact on my readers. I want to write the poem that’s going to save your life.   You just wrote a new book of poetry; what was that process like?
I’ve been working on the poems that appear in Prelude to Bruise since 2008. Many of them started in the workshops I took in graduate school at Rutgers University - Newark. Others I wrote when I was teaching high school English. I would wake up at 4:45am and write for about forty-five minutes every morning. About two years ago, I decided I actually had a book rather than just a pile of poems which meant it was time to start creating a coherent manuscript, something that would take the reader on a journey. The experience of working on these poems for six years has been a delight really. I’ve had great teachers, mentors and editors along the way, too. So, being able to publish the book now feels like the completion of a journey.

Do any of the skills you learned from speech come into play while working on your poetry?
When I’m further along in the process of writing a poem, I start reading it out loud. Poet Yusef Komunyakaa said that the “ear is a wonderful editor,” and I absolutely agree. Reading the poem out loud while I’m writing it brings all of the rhythms (expected and unexpected) to the surface; it tells me what’s working, what isn’t working and what should be seized upon. Speech and debate taught me to speak, of course, but most valuably, it taught me how to listen. 

Why did you join speech and debate?
It just seemed inevitable, honestly. Short of the whole business about having to wear a suit (which I absolutely loathe and have pretty much avoided since I graduated from college), all of the skills and values that forensics celebrates are values that I deeply believe in and aspire to embody. Also, I love to talk! Delivering speeches feels good. There’s just no other way to say it. 

How did speech and debate shape your high school (and college) experience?
Competing in speech and the debate was the first time I felt like I was doing something I was born to do. That’s a powerful feeling. One that I hope all young people are able to experience at one point or another. I received a full scholarship to compete for Western Kentucky University’s speech and debate team, and that’s huge. Speech changed my life. 

Now that you're an alumnus of the activity, what kind of impact has speech and debate had on your life?
In general, I have a better (though still imperfect) understanding of how to listen to others, express myself and engage in productive dialogues. Speech also had a tremendous impact on my writing. Reading my poems out loud is a natural part of my editing process, and I know where that comes from. When I do poetry readings, I’m drawing on my experience in speech as well. It’s always with me. Also, I’m the LGBT editor at BuzzFeed and work with a team of five amazing writers and journalists. I’m editing, writing, managing, doing interviews and speaking on panels, all of which draw from skills I picked up and honed during the eight years I competed in speech and debate. More broadly, lately I’ve been thinking a great deal about learning how to speak across the distance of our various identities as Americans. And that begins with learning about communication and putting that knowledge into practice.

Are you still involved in the activity? If so, how?
Not really, to be honest. It was a wonderful eight years and I’m deeply grateful. But I also believe that the point of forensics is what comes next and what you do with everything you’ve learned. I do think it’d be really cool to be able to support a scholarship fund for speech students one day. 

When you think about speech now, what memories come to mind?
I’ll never forget how normal it felt to talk to a wall in the middle a high school on Saturday mornings. I’ll never forget being curled up in the backseat of a van headed one tournament or another. I’ll never forget walking onto the stage during the NFL Nationals Final Round and seeing that amazing audience. I said “wow” out loud. Couldn’t help myself. 

Know talented high school students? We're scouring the country, looking for the best and brightest top talent for the 2014-2015 USA Debate Team. Applications are due August 7th!  
Announcing your 2014 Student of the Year Finalists.
Check out this throwback to the 1994 final of Original Oratory.
2014 National Tournament Event Champions!
Check out our Career Center for employment opportunities!
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