Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Li Cunxin's Mao's Last Dancer and Shakespeare's Othello were among the eclectic collection of works examined at the Literary Luncheon at St Joseph's Catholic High School in Albion Park on Tuesday.
Nine year 11 students from five schools across the Illawarra came together to share 10-minute presentations on the beauty and artistry of their chosen works.
After five years running the event, organiser Ruth Russell said the biggest change had been in text choice.
"Students are branching out to include Australian texts, monologues and texts from other cultures," the English teacher said.
Participant Emily I'ons chose The Book Thief by Australian author Markus Zusak.
"It explores what it is to be human," the Illawarra Grammar School (TIGS) student said.
"It takes the context of World War II - a dark world - and one girl, and through her you can see the light."
Mrs Russell said students were challenged to think about bigger issues.
"They are getting absorbed and immersed in other worlds and other characters," she said.
Adjudicator Louise D'Arcens, Associate Professor in English Literature at the University of Wollongong, said she was looking for depth of analysis and poise in presentation.
"These skills are translatable to uni and translatable to life," she said.
"Fine analysis and the capacity to articulate it - and to stand in front of a group and have some conviction - that's something that will take them into university, and beyond."
While Ms D'Arcens said all students achieved a very high standard, Louise Ellsmore (Smith's Hill High School) came first, ahead of Dominic Mortimer (TIGS), Mahalia Crawshaw (Smith's Hill) and Holly Small (St John the Evangelist High School).
Mrs Russell is looking to expand the program next year.