Published: Sept. 29, 2017 By

Ayla Sullivan, a University of Colorado Boulder student majoring in theater and dance and secondary English education, is no stranger to winning awards, and has just racked up another one: winning the Americas Latino Festival Eco-Artivist Challenge.

The junior won first place in slam poetry at the competitive performance art showcase, which was meant to highlight climate justice, as well as support Colorado artists.

Meanwhile, Sullivan is also starring in a theatrical production on campus.


Ayla Sullivan. At the top of the page, Sullivan appears in a promotional image for The Adding Machine.

Winning the challenge is “quite a wild story,” said Sullivan, who only the night before the competition found inspiration in Fossil Free CU and its relationship to race.

“I feel that climate justice typically overshadows racial justice here on campus, specifically,” Sullivan said.

“One of the poems I wrote is specifically about how Fossil Free CU was this sweeping movement here (on campus), but two weeks prior we had a demonstration to celebrate the lives of five murdered trans people, and all those kids that were supporting Fossil Free CU were also the kids who were making fun of us for trying to bring awareness to the fact that trans people are dying, or that trans people on campus do not feel safe, or that people of color on this campus do not feel safe.”

Sullivan began performing slam poetry—or when a poet performs in front of an audience without music or other support—events at the age of 16. After getting a start at a slam-poetry session at Denver’s Mercury Café, Sullivan moved to become grand-slam champion of both the Cherry Creek School District and the city of Denver in 2015.

Shortly after, Sullivan became a member of Minor Disturbance, an organization engaging youth with art, later competing in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta.

This love of performing, however, doesn’t overshadow Sullivan’s first love—writing.

“Writing was my first love before anything else. I started writing short stories and songs at the age of 5,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan found a passion in theater at age 11. “I’ve been studying theater for 10 years, and I think that time has made me figure out how I need to grow as an artist, how much I am settled in myself as an artist, and know what I want.”

“I always wanted to be on stage,” continued Sullivan, “and that kind of married the two of them when I was very young.”

But Sullivan says both the poetry and art communities in the Denver-Boulder area, “saved my life.”

The community “felt safe enough to find out about myself,” Sullivan added. “When I first came to the slam community, I was deep in the closet. I thought everything about myself was something I should be ashamed of and nobody else did, and when I started going to slam, I realized I was not alone and that you don’t have to be.”  

Poetry slams are not the only thing keeping Sullivan busy. Sullivan wrote a book that will be released next year, and is preparing to star in CU Boulder’s production of The Adding Machine, a play that will show at the University Theatre Sept. 29 through Oct. 8.

The Adding Machine is a play written by Elmer Rice in 1923. The work portrays the actions of Mr. Zero, a man whose job is replaced by a machine. Sullivan will play Mr. Zero’s lonely love interest, Daisy Diana Dorothea Devore.

The director, Associate Professor Cecilia Pang, “has acted as a mentor,” Sullivan said, adding that, “what made me stay here is our theater department.”