Leslie Liberato, who’s working closely with Maryrose Flanigan to organize the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud competition, claims she’s “a manager more than a subject expert”—a charmingly arresting sentiment coming from a federal employee.

Liberato’s preparation for Poetry Out Loud included administering Great American Voices, a program that brought opera to 41 military bases, and which Liberato calls her “greatest coup.” Voices gave grants to local opera companies to fund the performances, and was, according to Liberato, another brainchild of former NEA Charmain Dana Gioia and his appreciation for entrepreneurial models.

Now on the poetry beat, Liberato is helping Flanigan plan the deployment of NEA staffers to state contests. There are 53 contests: all states plus our very own District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. NEA staff don’t attend every contest, but try to hit up states that have innovative models—like Oregon, which will present poetry via sign language—as well as states that are making big changes in how they present the contest—like Alaska, which is moving its competition from Anchorage to Juno.

Reporting by Andrew Beaujon