play / 2014

Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Program

Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate Program

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by PEN Center USA, 'PEN USA'

Celebrate the voices of LA youth and name 12 LA Youth Poet Ambassadors and 1 LA Youth Poet Laureate! @ Public Libraries across LA


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

The LA Youth Poet Laureate program aims to celebrate the top writers and youth leaders across Los Angeles County.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • South Bay
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

The Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate will be a joint program of PEN Center USA and Urban Word LA, supported by LA Public Library, the LA County Commission on Human Relations, Penmanship Books and the Academy of American Poets. The Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, poetry and performance, and Human Relations, Diversity & Social Justice across Los Angeles.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

In the months preceding the program launch, PEN USA and Urban Word LA will provide free writing workshops at 12 LA Public Library branches across LA County for young poets and writers to put together their poetry portfolios, create resumes, CVs and all other contest materials. Furthermore, we will host showcase performances of top youth poets to spread the word about this powerful opportunity.

During the month of April (National Poetry Month), we will accept submissions from young poets, writers, leaders and activists ages 13-19 from across Los Angeles County who are interested in representing Los Angeles as the inaugural LA Youth Poet Laureate. A group of esteemed judges (including California Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera) will chose 12 Finalists, all given the distinction of LA Poet Ambassador, and we will select one youth to be honored with the title of LA Youth Poet Laureate at the Poet Laureate Commencement Performance at LA Public Library’s Mark Taper Auditorium.

Along with winning the prestigious title of LA Youth Poet Laureate, the winning poet will also win a book deal from Penmanship Books to publish their first collection of poems, as well as a library tour. The LA Youth Poet Laureate and the LA Poet Ambassadors will have numerous opportunities and platforms to share their powerful voices, their leadership, and love of Los Angeles at numerous events across the county. Urban Word Los Angeles and our many partners recognize that youth voice and community engagement are vital for empowering young people to effect positive changes in their communities and beyond. Local partners also include Get Lit, Say Word, 826LA, Write Girl and Street Poets.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

This project will be an historic one, as it will be one of the first places nationally to recognize and honor a Youth Poet Laureate, and cultivate LA Youth Poet Ambassadors across the city.

Along with the free creative writing resources that this program will provide for teens across the county, as well as the numerous live performances, this program will help to develop and cultivate a culture that prioritizes youth voice, literary arts and poetry, and an aesthetic of 21st century artist that are socially and civically engaged. The mission of this program is to not only value art/poetry for art’s sake, but also to engage social justice, diversity, and the powerful stories of our incredible city.

Each year, the winners (LA Youth Poet Ambassadors) and the LA Youth Poet Laureate, will promote the values of this program, and perform across the city. These performances will be free opportunities for LA Country residents to hear what is on the minds and hearts of our city’s youth. The performances and workshops will take place in libraries, theaters, parks, and community spaces and theaters.

Whom will your project benefit?

Most specifically, this program will benefit teen writers in Los Angeles counties. Additionally, this program will benefit the numerous communities across Los Angeles that will provide audience to celebrate these teen voices, as well as teachers, educators, parents and supporters of youth and literary arts. Furthermore, because this program seeks to galvanize the many powerful youth-serving orgs across LA, we will serve the diverse programs and constituents of LA literary arts orgs across the county, including Get Lit, Say Word, 826LA, WriteGirl, Street Poets, and LA Arts and Athletics Alliance.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We have confirmed and worked successfully with all of our project partners including: Los Angeles Public Library, Central branch’s Mark Taper Auditorium, LA County Commission on Human Relations, Academy of American Poets, Penmanship Books, Get Lit Words Ignite, Say Word (Pomona), 826LA, WriteGirl, Street Poets, and LA Arts and Athletics Alliance.

Each partner brings an incredible community and history of powerful programming, reach, and powerful youth development work with teens. We are able to utilize the LA Public Library system, and the LA County Commission on Human Relations, to provide the institutional support to promote the program and provide platforms for writing and performance.

We are critically committed to: 1: Providing safe spaces for LA youth to share their important and powerful voices. 2: Honoring the young poet-leaders in meaningful and important ways through the creation of LA Youth Poet Laureate program and LA Youth Poet Ambassadors. 3: Galvanizing various organizations across Los Angeles country that do this life-changing work.

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Play” metrics?

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs
  • Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Our program situates young people in poetry and performance in spaces that attract diverse audiences and services. We provide free after school programs in these spaces, and cultivate a culture that prioritizes youth voice in these spaces, and most of all, celebrates them.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

This project serves as a platform 1) to engage youth writers of Los Angeles and inspire them to develop the tools to cultivate art that inspires change, and 2) to showcase these young voices to diverse audiences across Los Angeles County.

In evaluating the success of the program we measure: a) Impact that our partner orgs and outreach has to sharing these powerful opportunities to young writers, which includes monitoring and tracking students who participate in workshops, submit their contest materials and attend live events. b) Audience engagement across Los Angeles County for support and celebration of our youth through the myriad performances and events that this project produces. c) Impact of LA Youth Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Ambassadors to promote the values of this program, prioritizing civic and community engagement, and excellence in the arts.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

As a nonprofit leader in literary arts, a poet, and an educator, I have seen first hand the power of programs like this one. The most important lessons that I have learned is that: 1: Young people will rise to the occasion when asked to make their work “mean” something, to develop critical reflection through their writing, and to share their opinion with diverse audience. Youth are denied these platforms time and time again, and therefore creating a program and platform like this is not only necessary but imperative. 2: Poetry does not have to live on the page, in a coffee shop or in a community center only, but CAN and should occupy places of power and governance. This project takes young writers out of the spaces they usually convene to provide “official” support and validation with their city, places of governance, and council districts behind them.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

The Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate program/initiative is a program of Urban Word, an award-winning youth literary arts and youth development organization, in collaboration with local youth literary arts organizations (YOU) across the country; and championed by the leading national literary organizations, including the Academy of American Poets and the PEN Center USA. The local partner-organizations represent leadership from a broad and diverse national network, including the Brave New Voices network and the Louder than a Bomb network.

In 2008, Urban Word, launched the nation’s first-ever Youth Poet Laureate program, in partnership with the NYC Voters Assistance Commission and the NYC Mayor’s Office. Since then, Urban Word has honored 5 Youth Poet Laureates in New York City, each having released their own debut collections of poetry from Penmanship Books. This year, Urban Word will partner with six of the top youth literary arts organizations in Los Angeles to launch the first-ever LA Youth Poet Laureate program, and announce the inaugural Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate.

Furthermore, with key partnerships with Los Angeles Public Library, and the LA County Commission on Human Relations, we are poised to set up a full schedule of workshops and events, and ensure that the promotional needs and reach of this program are met.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

For contest based programs, that engage multiple platforms for performance and workshops, the biggest obstacles are spreading the word, and finding space. Because of our highly strategic partnerships with county commissions, the public library system, and the leading literary arts organization in Los Angeles County, we are able to ensure that we secure all of these needs prior to launching the program.

What resources does your project need?

  • Network/relationship support
  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Infrastructure (building/space/vehicles, etc.)
  • Education/training
  • Community outreach
  • Quality improvement research