Oral Interpretation of Literature

In this event, two pieces, one poetry and one prose, are alternately presented in competition rounds. For example, round 1 is poetry and round 2 is prose. Students prepare two separate programs of manuscript-based literature substantially different in content, author, and/or original source. Each program shall consist of a single piece, a cutting, or a series of short pieces united by author or theme.

The literature chosen may include any form of published prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction. Drama, including theatrical monologues and speeches written to be delivered in real-life are prohibited. The author's words as published in the literature must not be altered for the presentation with the exception that cutting is permitted. If using a series of pieces, all titles and authors must be cited.

Each program must contain an introduction for purposes of explanation, setting, or selection transitions. Speakers may use a persona and/or character voices, but it is not necessary. Speakers should keep gesture and bodily movement to a minimum. They should emphasize vocal variety and facial expression to enhance the literary interpretation. No properties except a manuscript or binder may be used. Speakers should keep eye contact between audience and manuscript in reasonable balance. Judges will rank students based on which performer best used their delivery to transport you to the time and place required by the literature.

Time limit: Maximum of 10 minutes. While no minimum is prescribed, performances of less than 7-8 minutes often receive lower scores.

Summary of Judging Criteria

  • Introduction: The introduction should name the work(s) and author(s), provide necessary background information, and establish the mood.
  • Projection of Literature: The interpreter should demonstrate a clear understanding of the literature and project its meaning, message, and tone. The speaker should capture and convey the plot and/or development. In a presentation of a collection, there should be a unity to the program as a whole, made clear by the introduction and transitional material.
  • Narrator/Character Creation: The narrator should be believable and conversational. The narrator should be able to lead the audience through the details of the literature, keeping a consistent and clear attitude toward people, objects, and events within the literature. The interpreter should be able to demonstrate the characters' feelings and thoughts through the use of vocal inflections, facial expressions including visualization, and appropriate intensity.
  • Vocal Variety: The interpreter should appropriately vary pitch, volume, rate, and intensity to convey the various moods and messages in the literature. Appropriate words should be stressed for clarity and understanding.
  • Audience and Script Contact: The interpreter should invite the audience into the presentation, directing eye contact and expressing his or her feelings to individual audience members when appropriate and necessary and consulting the script when it is not. The interpreter should focus away from the audience and the script effectively during moments of internal and private thoughts. The interpreter should stay in the moment, with facial expression and emotional consistency when making contact with the manuscript.