A Master of Words, Crafter of Meaning, and Mirror of Culture
What is a National Poet Laureate? Many of us were so impressed by Amanda Gorman during Joe Biden and Kamala Harris' Presidential Inauguration. To hear people, you would think that Kamala Harris ordained her the first and only African American National Poet Laureate. But don't put that lie on Madam Vice President. To set the record straight, Ms. Gorman wrote, "I'd never want to be singled out as exceptional--we are many and varied, and if you enjoyed my work, you should learn more about the other poets who have graced this nation." (posts from January 21, 2021, on her Facebook Page) Which led me to wonder, as many have, what is a National Poet Laureate, exactly? So, let me share what I learned.
First, there are the United States' Poet Laureate Consultants in Poetry, and there are National Youth Poet Laureates. Now, like many people, I hear what I want to hear. So, when the hosts announced Ms. Amanda Gorman, I ignored the words "was" and "youth." All I heard was National Poet Laureate. And, all I saw was a beautiful, petite, black woman with poise and confidence beyond her years. So, like me, many of us created the new title "National Poet Laureate." I've even heard, "National Black Poet Laureate." Let me say; this is NOT correct. The Facts! Ms. Gorman was the 2017 National Youth Poet Laureate at the tender age of 19. She is now 22 years old and from Los Angeles. Shout-out to West Coast! The current, 2020, National Youth Poet Laureate is a young lady named Meera Dasgupta. She is from New York City. Shout-out to East Coast! By the way, I'm selling tickets to their East-Coast vs. West-Cost Poetry Slam. Now, that's Fake News!
The United States' (US) Poet Laureate is the one for grown-ups and works with the Library of Congress. The current US Poet Laureate for the 2020-2021 term is Ms. Joy Harjo. She is the first Native American from the tribal nation of Muscogee (Creek) to serve in the role, and she is serving her second term. She serves a 10-month term from September 2020 to May 2021. Also, she receives an annual stipend of $35,000 plus $5,000 travel expenses as a gift from Archer M. Huntington. She has a lot of flexibility, but she generally organizes poetry readings and conferences and introduces other promising poets across the United States.
That said, if you think your beautiful baby boy or girl has the chops to become a National Youth Poet Laureate, what do they need to do? First, they need to earn the title of Youth Poet Laureate for their local community or city. Then move up to the Regional ranks and on to the National Youth Poet Laureate Competition. The competition is an Urban Word NYC initiative that now involves local youth literary arts organizations across the United States. The President's Committee on the Arts & the Humanities, the Library of Congress, and a host of literary and cultural organizations serve as judges in the competition. If your baby boy or girl is still between the ages of 13 and 19 and they win, then, boom! The next National Youth Poet Laureate!