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Zaila Avant-garde is the spelling bee winner that the internet is going wild for

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Hollie Richardson
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Zaila Avant-garde

Zaila Avant-garde is the spelling bee champion, and basketball prodigy, that everybody is talking about this week.

The only word you need to know how to spell when talking about Zaila Avant-garde is ‘winner’. The 14-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, has just won the US Scripps National Spelling Bee. But that’s not all. Avant-garde made history by becoming the first African American winner and the second Black champion to win in the competition’s nearly 100-year history.

“Does this word contain like the English word ‘Murray,’ which would be the name of a comedian?” Avant-garde replied, referring to the actor, Bill Murray, when asked to spell ‘murraya’. After drawing laughs from the judges, she then went on to spell it correctly. 

Let’s take a look at the moment she won…

Avant-garde is also a basketball prodigy who hopes to play someday in the WNBA and holds three Guinness world records for dribbling multiple balls simultaneously. She told ESPN that spelling is actually just a hobby, and that winning the spelling bee is another goal she can now put on her list of accomplishments. 

“I was pretty relaxed on the subject of ‘murraya’ and pretty much any other word I got,” Avant-garde told the sports channel. “I kind of thought I would never be into spelling again, but I’m also happy that I’m going to make a clean break from it. I can go out, like my Guinness World Records, just leave it right there and walk off.”

Could this girl be any cooler? Well, yes, because former President of the United States, Barack Obama, has just given her a shoutout on Twitter. 

“Three Guinness World Records and now the national spelling bee champ! Congrats, Zaila – your hard work is paying off,” Obama wrote. “We’re all proud of you.”

As well as winning a big trophy, the first place prize of $50,000 (£36,000) and respect from the former President, Avant-Garde has also gone viral on the internet.

In an interview with Good Morning America on Friday (9 July), Avant-garde said she hoped to see more African American students “doing well in the Scripps Spelling Bee” in a few years and described the bee as a “gate-opener to being interested in education”.

And, just when you thought there can’t possibly be any more reasons to love this intrepid speller, the New York Times reports her father changed her surname from Heard to Avant-garde in homage to the jazz great John Coltrane. 

An icon is born. I - C - O - N. 

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…