For young poets today, there is no dearth of programs across the United States that aim to engage them in the art form and encourage them to use poetry as a means of expression, education, and civic participation. Perhaps foremost among those programs are two national initiatives: the National Youth Poet Laureate and the National Student Poet programs.
The National Youth Poet Laureate initiative was founded by Urban Word, an organization that provides free literary arts education and youth development programs in creative writing, spoken word poetry, playwriting, college prep, literature, and hip-hop. In 2008, Urban Word launched the nation’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate program, in New York City, followed by the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program in 2014. Since then, Urban Word has launched Youth Poet Laureate programs in thirty-five additional cities across the country. In 2017, Urban Word and Youth Speaks teamed up with the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities to create the National Youth Spoken Word Ambassador program, the first government recognition program for young spoken word poets. The five spoken word ambassadors were chosen from a pool of youth poet laureates across the country based on their writing skills and their commitment to social justice and civic engagement; they were all finalists in the considerations for a national youth poet laureate.
In April of 2017, Amanda Gorman was named as the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States of America. In April of 2018, Patricia Frazier was named the second National Youth Poet Laureate. In 2019, Kara Jackson was named the third National Youth Poet Laureate. The fourth and 2020 National Youth Poet Laureate is Meera Dasgupta.
The four regional winners that are advancing as national finalists for the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate position are Muni Harrison of Ann Arbor, MI (Midwest Region), Serena Yang of New York City (Northeast Region), Alora Young of Nashville, TN (South Region), and Alexandra Huynh of Sacramento, CA (West Region). The National Commencement will take place on May 2021 online at www.youthlaureate.org.
Meera Dasgupta was named the 2020 National Youth Poet Laureate.
Meera Dasgupta is the 16-year-old NYC Poet Laureate and the 2020 United States Youth Poet Laureate. A Van Lier Fellow, Federal Hall Fellow, Climate Speaks Winner, & Scholastic Arts and Writing Winner, Dasgupta’s performances have been featured by the New York Times, PBS, Apple, Grist, the Apollo Theater, and Bryant Park. A part of numerous advocacy groups, she hopes to continue to utilize the intersection between social justice and poetry to uplift historically underrepresented communities and to combat normative hegemonic narratives.
The National Student Poets program, presented by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, is the country’s highest honor for youth poets presenting their original work. Each year five exemplary high school poets are selected from among the national medalists in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards by a jury of literary leaders in education and the arts. These students then embark on a year of service as national youth poetry ambassadors.
The current Class of National Student Poets are Maddy Dietz (Saint Paul, MN), Manasi Garg (Saratoga, CA), Isabella Ramirez (Lake Worth, FL), Ethan Wang (Katy, TX), and Anthony John Wiles, Jr. (Pittsburgh, PA). Read more about the National Student Poets below.
Maddy Dietz is a 17-year-old, Shakespeare-performing lesbian author from Saint Paul, Minnesota. She is an award-winning poet and an alumna of the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers, with work published in Parsec Ink’s Triangulation: Dark Skies anthology. Maddy founded two Press Corps for Girl Scouts councils in Minnesota and in her former home of central Texas to give girls more opportunities to explore and use their voices by creating original media. Passionate about providing children with the kind of opportunities she desired, she has also developed and led numerous poetry- and prose-writing workshops for elementary school-aged students. These materials are being expanded into free kits for nonprofit organizations and afterschool programs. An award-winning debater, Maddy has served as the guest host on multiple episodes of Smash Boom Best, Minnesota Public Radio’s debate podcast for children.
Manasi Garg is a rising senior at Saratoga High School. For her, poetry is a way to translate trauma into meaning, to breathe life into untold stories and unspeakable thoughts. Her first poem, if you could call it that, was a wannabe Taylor Swift song about her deep heartbreak over a nonexistent boy. Now, Manasi prefers R&B/neo-soul/funk music—oh, and much of her work explores immigration, ancestry, and girlhood, all peppered with quintessential teenage angst and identity crises. She often finds herself writing about her family, her experience as a second-generation Indian American girl, and the stories of her people, mostly because they are all she really knows about. You can find her work in The Kenyon Review, The Mercury News, and her family WhatsApp chat. Manasi also works as editor-in-chief for her high school’s award-winning newspaper, The Saratoga Falcon.
Isabella Ramirez is a rising senior and communications major at Alexander W. Dreyfoos School of the Arts. She is the editor–in-chief of her school’s yearbook and the production managing editor of The Muse news magazine. In 2019, Isabella was a Scholastic Gold Medalist in journalism. She has twice had her poetry published in Seeds Literary & Arts Magazine. In her junior year, Isabella joined her school’s slam poetry team and began to take poetry more seriously. In March 2020, she progressed to the Louder Than A Bomb Florida team semifinals and was an individual finalist. She hopes that through slam poetry, she can provide a voice for the Latinx and LGBTQ+ community.
Ethan Wang is 16 and attends Cinco Ranch High School. Raised by a family with a literary background in China, he was encouraged to read from a young age. His favorite books include Slaughterhouse-Five and The Great Gatsby. His poems are written as attempts to tell personal stories, depict nostalgia, and embody the disjointed cultures he grew up with. As a result, much of his writing is a battle of overtly traditional styles and themes against more modern ideas. Although Ethan usually writes poems for himself, he has published one collection titled Cloudy Skies. As the founder of his school’s writing club, he looks to encourage others to participate in the field. Ethan is also on his school’s debate team, where he serves as an officer. In his spare time, he typically browses the internet, plays farming video games, or listens to chill music.
Anthony John Wiles, Jr., was born and raised in the town of Ross, just outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He is a rising junior at the Sewickley Academy, where he is active in several clubs and organizations and writes for the school newspaper and the literary magazine. Anthony is also an avid reader and has been especially influenced by the works of Frank X. Walker and Crystal Good, his greatest poet role models. His family is originally from West Virginia, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia, with most of his forebears residing in the mountains of Appalachia. Because of this, Anthony identifies proudly as an Afrilachian: an African American Appalachian. He is an avid scholar of history, constantly infusing it into his writing. He especially enjoys exploring the way food can be used as an expression and preservation of one’s heritage. He tries to tell the stories of those who came before him, as well as to make sense of the world around him through poetry.