Last Thursday, Larra Clark and I had the privilege of attending a dinner to honor the National Student Poets. Five students are selected each year to serve as literary ambassadors, each representing a different part of the country. The dinner capped an extraordinary day that began with a poetry reading in the White House for First Lady Michelle Obama, White House staff, and guests. The student poets then held a poetry reading at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Public Library in Washington, D.C.
The intellectual capabilities and poise of the student poets were extraordinary. I was tempted to make a job offer or two that evening, though I should wait a few years so that they can complete at least high school … and probably college, too. By the way, the student poets are:
- Chasity Hale, age 16 of Miami, FL (Southeast Region)
- De’John Hardges, age 16 of Cleveland, OH (Midwest Region)
- Eileen Huang, age 15 of Lincroft, NJ (Northeast Region)
- Anna Lance, age 17 of Anchorage, AK (West Region)
- David Xiang, age 17 of Little Rock, AR (Southwest Region)
Instead of reading at the dinner program, the student poets talked about their work process and motivation. A common theme was thinking of poetry as a form of self-expression… “I write because no else knows my story.” Several also talked about creating poetry as a means of personal exploration… “I’m looking for myself” and “it is personal and so there is nothing to fear—it is just me.” Poetry is “mental (or memory) alchemy” and it “creates space for a genre in a silicon world.”
The student poets will participate in workshops on writing and leadership. They will engage with diverse audiences of all ages in the art of poetry by sharing their work, attending events, hosting workshops, and leading service projects.
While I thoroughly enjoyed myself, which is certainly sufficient, this Program also has implications for our work. Youth and technology is an important focus for us, and especially how to balance deeper thinking and synthesis while also engaging in the latest technologies, and the role of libraries in promoting contemplation. The student poets certainly have not repudiated modern technology, while embracing one of the oldest “low tech” intellectual endeavors. Perhaps we can learn from these young people about maintaining the best of our intellectual traditions while embracing new approaches and emerging tools as we look to how libraries transform in the coming years.
The National Student Poets Program is run by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, with the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards and Google, Inc. Many thanks to these organizations for enabling this program.