Student from Zambia sues to compete in 'Poetry Out Loud'

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A high school student who fled his native country of Zambia last year is suing the National Endowment for the Arts because it will not let him compete in the national "Poetry Out Loud" contest.

Allan Monga, a 17-year-old junior at Deering High School, won Maine's contest but he said he's not being allowed to compete nationally because he hasn't yet been granted legal asylum.

"I honestly don't want to stir up any trouble. I just want to go to Washington, DC, and compete like any other kid," Monga, of Westbrook, said Thursday at his attorneys' office.

The Bangor Daily News reports he and the Portland school district filed the complaint Wednesday.

Monga and the school district are seeking an injunction to force the NEA to let him participate in the national competition, April 23-25 in Washington.

Attorneys representing the National Endowment for the Arts and the Maine Arts Foundation, sponsor of the state contest, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

US Representative Chellie Pingree, who urged NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu to allow Monga to participate, said Thursday in a statement that the NEA "is all about supporting artistic expression from diverse voices and capturing different aspects of the American experience."

"As a young person seeking asylum in our county — and an exceptional performer — I think it would be terrible to exclude Allan's voice from this competition," she said.

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