“What you learn through reading and writing poetry will stay with you throughout your life. It will spark your imagination and broaden your horizons and even help your performance in the classroom.”
First Lady Michelle Obama, Honorary Chair of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH), to high school students from across the country at a poetry workshop sponsored by the White House.
The mission of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities is, in part, to promote initiatives that give young people the opportunity to experience the mastery, discipline and accomplishment that are part of being an artist and a scholar. For the past 18 months the President’s Committee has focused specifically on the critical role the arts and humanities play in preparing students for success in the knowledge and innovation economy.
The new National Student Poets Program embodies these two priorities, and is born of many months of groundwork and partnership-building.
Throughout the winter of 2011, the President’s Committee worked with 826DC, a tutoring and writing workshop in Washington, D.C., along with local poets and educators, on a series of workshops with four area high schools. For months, these teens came every Wednesday evening to learn both the craft and the creativity of effective written expression.
On May 11th, those students were joined by scores of students like them, from across the country, in a poetry workshop at the White House. One young woman had written through the 826 sessions before introducing First Lady Michelle Obama. Every participant felt the charge of having their work recognized and respected.
The success of last spring’s Poetry Workshop with the First Lady inspired the President’s Committee and the Institute of Museums and Library Services (IMLS) to join with the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers to create the National Student Poets Program. The program is conceived as the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work.
Each year a national jury of literary luminaries and leaders in education and the arts will select five outstanding high school student poets whose work exhibits exceptional creativity, dedication to craft and promise. The jury includes singer-songwriter Jeff Tweedy, Alice Quinn of the Poetry Society of America, poet Terrance Hayes, “Kenyon Review” editor David Lynn, and the Library of Congress’ Robert Casper. The five National Student Poets will be chosen from among the national medalists in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, and one of the key aspects of the award will be a year of service as literary ambassadors for poetry.
The National Student Poets’ appointment as poetry ambassadors celebrates young people as makers and doers. The five student poets’ term begins in September at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C, and each student poet will receive a $5,000 academic award made possible by the Bernstein Foundation.
During their appointment year, the poets will present their work at writing and poetry events, as well as engage other youth in workshops and presentations, inspiring them to explore and achieve excellence through their own creative endeavors. These activities and events will occur in schools, libraries, museums and other venues and will bring attention to the vital role that reading, writing, and poetry have in nurturing creativity in young people.
Since its public launch this fall, the National Student Poets Program has been enthusiastically embraced by both artists and educators. Please follow the program on Twitter @PCAH_gov and learn more about the program at the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers and the President’s Committee websites.
Ronnie Cho is an Associate Director for the Office of Public Engagement