On June 14, in Central Library’s filled-to-capacity Taper Auditorium, Amanda Gorman, 16, was named the first Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate. Gorman will serve as L.A. Youth Poet Ambassador and receive a book deal with Penmanship Books to publish her first collection of poems.
Gorman was among 19 finalists selected to read their poems on stage Saturday from a pool of 150 L.A. County youth, ages 14-19, who submitted poems. Gorman, who describes herself as a “presidential hopeful,” has an impressive resume like all of the 18 finalists. The New Roads High School student was chosen as a youth delegate to speak at the United Nations and founded her own organization “One Pen One Page,” which is dedicated to partnering students with problematic schools in their communities with poetry workshops, and youth-led fundraising and advocacy.
The pool of young writers who submitted pieces was so talented that organizers, who initially planned to have 12 finalists, increased the number to 19.
“They will all serve as L.A. Youth Poet Ambassadors championing the values of creative expression and civic engagement,” said Michael Corelli, spokesperson for Urban Word. The award-winning literary arts organization spearheaded the initiative to create the Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program in 2008 during the New York Youth Poet Laureate event.
Currently, there are Youth Poet Laureates in New York and four cities nationally, with programs being developed in an additional 12 cities across the United States. Urban Word, partnered with the Los Angeles Public Library, the Los Angeles County Commission for Human Relations, and PEN Center USA to sponsor the first L.A. event.
Cirelli said the goal of the L.A. program is to identify youth writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, poetry and performance, diversity, and human dignity.
To encourage teens to write poetry and spoken word pieces for submission to the contest, the library hosted six poetry writing workshops at regional branches and librarians provided teens with program information and applications at all 73 library locations and distributed contest information at local schools, businesses and civic organizations throughout the city.
Other local and national partners include: Los Angeles Arts & Athletics Alliance, Academy of American Poets; Say Word; Get Lit Words Ignite; and Street Poets. The program’s judges included: California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; Beau Sia; Mike, the Poet; Kat McGill; Matthew “Cuban” Hernandez; Mahogany L. Browne; Melina Abdullah; and F. Douglas Brown.