Five teenagers demonstrated to the 2012 Library of Congress’ National Book Festival audience on September 23 that poetry is alive and thriving amongst our nation’s youth. At a special ceremony during the Festival, Luisa Banchoff, age 17, of Arlington, VA, Miles Hewitt, age 17, of Vancouver, WA, Claire Lee, age 16, of New York, NY, Natalie Richardson, age 17, of Oak Park, IL, and Lylla Younes, age 17, of Alexandria, LA were appointed as the inaugural class of literary ambassadors for the National Student Poets Program, the nation’s highest honor for young poets presenting original work.
Presenting the awards was PCAH Co-Chair Margo Lion, who was joined by the program’s two other partners Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Virginia McEnerney, Executive Director of Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. In her remarks, Lion said, “Throughout the reviewing and judging process, we have been amazed and humbled by their voices. They each demonstrate a widsom, confidence and perception that belies their age and our preconceptions. They are also an outstanding argument for the importance of the arts and humanities in our country’s schools. The President’s Committee believes that an education without these subjects is incomplete. And the arts and humanities are not just for those who go on to become artists or poets.”
Representing the White House at the ceremony was Jon Carson Director of the Office of Public Engagement , who congratulated the student poets on behalf of the First Lady and President. Honorary Chairman of the President’s Committee, First Lady Michelle Obama expressed to the students in her congratulatory letter to them, “As a National Student Poet, you now have the unique opportunity to share your accomplishments with the rest of the country; you have the opportunity to lift up and inspire others. I believe that what you learn while reading and writing poetry will stay with you for the rest of your life, and I sincerely hope you continue to use your creativity and imagination throughout your term as literary ambassador and beyond.”
The five National Student Poets, whose yearlong commitment began at the National Book Festival, were selected from a pool of outstanding writers, grades 9-11, who received a national Scholastic Art & Writing Award for poetry through the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Chosen by a panel of distinguished jurors, the National Student Poets were evaluated based on their creativity, promise, and dedication to craft. The jurors included Robert Casper (Head of the Poetry and Literature Center, Library of Congress); Mayda de Valle (Poet); Andrea Gibson (Poet); Kimiko Hahn (Poet); Terrance Hayes (Poet); James Kass (Founder and Executive Director, Youth Speaks); David Lynn (Editor, Kenyon Review); Alice Quinn (Executive Director, Poetry Society of America); Jeff Tweedy (Musician); and Kerry Washington (Actress).
“The diverse talents and subjects of these young writers suggest they will be tomorrow's most luminous poets, as well as tomorrow's brightest innovators and leaders: philosopher-poets, doctor-poets, musician-poets, scientist-poets. I hope this honor inspires them in every possible way, because as I read their work, I was certainly inspired by them,” said Terrance Hayes, recipient of the 2010 National Book Award for Poetry.
In addition to serving as literary ambassadors for poetry through readings and workshops at libraries, museums, and schools in their respective geographic regions, the National Student Poets will each receive an academic award of $5,000 funded by the Bernstein Family Foundation, and mentoring and feedback on their work. During their one-year tenure, each student will serve as a resource for the U.S. Department of Education and the Library of Congress. They will also complete a community service project to help build awareness for the importance of creative expression and literacy, as well as the appreciation of poetry.
The National Student Poets Program reflects the national imprimatur of the President’s Committee in advancing arts education, links the National Student Poets with audiences and resources in their neighborhoods through IMLS’s community-based network of libraries and museums, and builds upon the Alliance’s long-standing work with educators and creative teens through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which recently announced its 90th annual call for submissions in all categories. Students in grades 9-11 who are interested in becoming a National Student Poet can submit their work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards throughout the fall; the National Award winners in poetry, to be announced in the spring of 2013, will then be eligible for the Program. More information on the National Student Poets Program can be found at www.artandwriting.org/NSPP.