In a private ceremony at the White House, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) Honorary Chair Michelle Obama presented the fourth class of National Student Poets with their pins, signifying their role as poetry ambassadors for the coming year and identifying them as recipients of the nation’s highest honor for high school poets creating original work. The National Student Poets program is a partnership between the PCAH and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers (AYAW).
“Today is about celebrating these extraordinary young people, but it’s also about bringing the power of poetry to kids across the country,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. She then charged the new class of National Student Poets with the following: “You are now chosen to go out there and spread the word and to share your gift with as many people as you can. . .kids who’ve never written a poem. . . . Kids who never read great poets like Jacqueline [Woodson], they don't know she exists -- I want you all to find those kids in your lives. Find them, seek them out.”
For the next year, these poets will meet the challenge Mrs. Obama outlined in her remarks by engaging audiences of all ages in the art of poetry through readings, workshops and other events at museums, libraries, festivals and other venues. All these activities will focus on the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success, as well as celebrating teens as makers and doers. Their ambassadorial role began immediately after their White House reading, with their first public appearance at the Martin Luther King Public Library. Before each of them read—Chasity Hale, age 16 of Miami, FL; De’John Hardges, age 16 of Cleveland; Eileen Huang, age 15 of Lincroft, NJ; Anna Lance, age 17 of Anchorage, AK; and David Xiang, age 17 of Little Rock, AR—were formally welcomed by the District of Columbia’s Chief Librarian Richard Reyes-Gavilan, and then introduced by PCAH member Olivia Morgan, the new IMLS Director Dr. Kathryn Matthew and AYAW Executive Director Virginia McEnerney.
The National Student Poets are selected every year from students in grades 9–11, who received national medals from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition initiative for creative teens. . The 2015 class of five National Student Poets was selected from a national pool of more than 20,000 poetry submissions. A group of 35 semifinalists are then selected and sent to a jury of literary luminaries and leaders in education and the arts for final adjudication based on exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise.
This year’s panel of judges included Esther Belin (writer and artist), Robert Casper (Head of Poetry and Literature Center, Library of Congress), Carolyn Forché (poet, teacher, activist), Andrea Gibson (poet), Juan Felipe Herrera (novelist and United States Poet Laureate), Edward Hirsch (writer and President of John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation), Alice Quinn (poet and Executive Director of Poetry Society of America), Glenis Redmond (poet), Patricia Smith (poet) and Alfre Woodard (actress and member of the President’s Committee).
Each National Student Poet will receive an academic award of $5,000, funded by the Bernstein Family Foundation, and serve as a resource for the U.S. Department of Education and the Library of Congress. Students in grades 9–11 who are interested in becoming National Student Poets can submit their work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards throughout the fall. In the spring of 2016, the National Award winners in Poetry will then be eligible for the program. More information on the National Student Poets Program can be found at www.artandwriting.org/NSPP.