On Thursday, Zaila defeated a field of 11 competitors to earn the title and a $50,000 (£36,000) first-place award in the event in Orlando, Florida.
“For spelling, I usually try to do about 13,000 words [per day], and that usually takes about seven hours or so,” the home-schooled teen told New Orleans paper the Times-Picayune.
“We don’t let it go way too overboard, of course. I’ve got school and basketball to do.”
According to the Associated Press news agency, it was the first time since 2008 when at least one Scripps National Spelling Bee champion or co-champion was not of South Asian ancestry.
Zaila had paused earlier in the evening over the term nepeta, a herbal mint, but had managed to correctly spell it. Zaila is the tournament’s second black winner, after Jody-Anne Maxwell of Jamaica, who won at the age of 12 in 1998.