It is rare that a person introduces themselves as a poet these days, but this past weekend I had the honor of meeting real, accomplished and beautifully articulate poets. Some were professional — I’m still in awe of Terrance Hayes after meeting him and his family — but five of them were teenagers. On Sunday, Luisa Banchoff of Arlington, VA; Miles Hewitt of Vancouver, WA; Claire Lee of New York City; Natalie Richardson of Oak Park, IL; and Lylla Younes of Alexandria, LA were appointed as the inaugural class of literary ambassadors for the National Student Poets Program (NSPP), the nation’s highest honor for young poets presenting original work. The program, a signature initiative of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, honors, promotes, and celebrates young people as makers and doers who can inspire their peers to achieve excellence in their creative endeavors.
All five National Student Poets read their work at the Library of Congress National Book Festival and blew us all away. They received their first standing ovation, which I’m positive will be the first of many. They are each tasked to serve one year as literary ambassadors. During that year, they will meet with poetry mentors like Terrance, perform readings, conduct workshops, and create a community service project in their neighborhood. It is an incredible opportunity, and after having met them, I applaud the judges of the program on selecting such a perfect group for the 2012 National Student Poets Program (their parents deserve accolades too). Each poet has a unique voice and story. Check them out:
Luisa is an International Baccalaureate Diploma Candidate and serves as poetry editor for Washington-Lee High School’s literary magazine. She grew up in a bilingual and bicultural family and has spent two years in Bonn, Germany. Luisa has been active in community service, helping to found a social justice youth group at her church and serving as a Girl Scout for 10 years. She has been an avid poet since the eighth grade.
Miles has been writing since the third grade. In the eighth grade, as his ear for voice continued to develop, Miles discovered musical artists such as Bob Dylan and Paul Simon and moved on to songwriting. Since then, he’s penned more than 100 songs and self-recorded two albums that are reminiscent of these earlier artists while reflecting the sounds and feelings of his generation. Miles fell in love with poetry more recently. You can read some of his work and see him perform here.
Claire is the photo editor and a columnist for her school newspaper, Limelight, and the editor-in-chief of an out-of-school newspaper, NY Girls’ Squash. As an only child who didn’t like to play with dolls while growing up, Claire found comfort in writing stories in which she had many siblings and poems about cool words. She enjoys creating lists, which is reflected in her poetry.
Natalie has participated in her school’s Spoken Word Club and Slam Team for two years. She is a power house when she reads her poetry. This past year, she recorded a piece for radio station WBEZ. Natalie is also a twin, and one of her favorite pastimes is debating philosophy with her opposite-minded sister.
Lylla was born in Williamson, West Virginia, a coal miner’s town with a population of about 2,000. Her mother used to make up stories about the old floodwall near her house, and she would stare down at the scraps of furniture in the water and imagine the lives of the people they belonged to. That’s where her imagination developed.
Keep an eye out for these poets over the following year and beyond! And, if you are an aspiring teen poet, or know one, enter the 2013 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards to be considered for the next class of National Student Poets! Winning a national medal in poetry is the exclusive pathway to become eligible.
Poets, thank you for the inspiration this past weekend!