Five Teens Selected for the Country’s Most Prestigious Youth Poetry Honor
2021 Class of National Student Poets Announced
Washington, DC—Five high school students from across the country have been chosen from among thousands of award-winning poets to serve for a year as National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work.
The National Student Poets Program (NSPP) is a partnership of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which presents the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the longest-running and most prestigious scholarship and recognition program for the country’s young artists and writers.
Representing five geographical regions of the nation, the 2021 National Student Poets are:
- Aanika Eragam (Southeast), Milton High School, Milton, GA
- Kechi Mbah (Southwest), Carnegie Vanguard High School, Houston, TX
- Sarah Fathima Mohammed (West), Harker Upper School, San Jose, CA
- R.C. Davis (Midwest), Oak Park & River Forest High School, Oak Park, IL
- Kevin Gu (Northeast), Hopkinton High School, Hopkinton, MA
The National Student Poets were selected from students in grades 10-11 who submitted more than 19,000 works in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and received top honors in poetry. From this pool of National Medal recipients, 40 semi-finalists were identified as the most gifted young poets in their regions, based on their originality, technical skills, and personal voice, and were invited to submit additional poetry and performance videos to distinguished jurors for the final selection of the five National Student Poets.
The 2021 Student Poets will be appointed by the Director of IMLS, Crosby Kemper, on September 21 at 4pm EST in a ceremony at Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in Washington D.C. The ceremony will feature remarks by a critically-acclaimed keynote speaker who is yet to be announced, commentary about the program’s community service successes, and individual readings by each incoming 2021 Student Poet. The ceremony will also be attended by DC Scores, the flagship of national nonprofit America SCORES, which creates neighborhood teams that give kids the confidence and skills to succeed on the playing field and in the classroom with a 12-week poetry writing program and soccer league.
Crosby Kemper said, “Five wonderful Poets! Many wonderful poems! Personality and passion! We are delighted to send these young people out into the world as ambassadors for poetry, for humor, pathos, and resilience, in partnership with museums and libraries. America's communities need them, now more than ever—and here they come!”
Throughout the year, the Poets will serve as literary ambassadors and will share their passion for poetry, literacy, and the literary arts with their communities and throughout their regions. This will be done through activities that include service projects, workshops, and public readings. In addition, each Poet will receive a $5,000 academic award.
All student submissions in consideration for the National Student Poets Program are judged by literary luminaries and leaders in education and the arts based on exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise. This year’s panel of jurors were:
Class of 2021 Jurors
- Ekiwah Adler Belendez, Award-winning poet and writer
- Jen Benka, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets
- Joshua Bennett, Founder and Director of the June Jordan Fellowship, Winner of the 2015 National Poetry Series
- Sherwin Bitsui, Whiting Award Winner
- Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn
- Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poet Laureate (2015-2017)
- Edward Hirsch, Poet, President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation
- Ricardo Maldonado, Managing Director of 92Y Unterberg Poetry Center, poet and translator
- Camille Rankine, Co-chair of Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Council, award-winning poet
- Frank X. Walker, Founding member of the Affrilachian Poets, editor and poet
Watch this short video to see their reactions to the news that they were selected:
Regarding the Class of 2021, Christopher Wisniewski, Executive Director of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers commented, “Each of this year’s National Student Poets has an original, inspiring voice that demonstrates how poetry can challenge, engage, and unite diverse audiences. At the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, we are thrilled to support their work in person and online with libraries, museums, schools, and other partners. Through poetry, these exceptional young leaders will offer hope and community in a moment of uncertainty and change.”
The National Student Poets Program has showcased the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success for audiences across the country since its inception in 2011. The 55 National Student Poets have participated in community service projects, visiting more than one hundred cities, performing at more than eighty national poetry events, and mentoring hundreds of future poets. The Poets have traveled to libraries, museums, youth centers, reservations, and hospitals, and worked with military-connected youth, rural youth, and children with disabilities. They have performed their work numerous times at Lincoln Center and the White House, and with actor Bill Murray and Theater of War Productions.
Salma Mohammad, Class of 2019, said: “I was often very hesitant about my work as a poet since it was something I didn’t see as very impactful to the world. However, poetry was the one thing that connected me to my bilingual tongue, my two cultures, my history, and social justice. These were all aspects necessary to nourishing my soul and identity, yet I always placed that second to societal expectation. When I was appointed as the National Student Poet for the Midwest region by Alliance for Young Writers, it offered me assurance that my poetry is impactful, meaningful, and something I should pursue regardless of what others think. It helped me gain confidence in myself, my politics, and my culture. It reoriented my perspective of poetry as something ‘part-time’ to something that could nourish all aspects of my life.”
The National Student Poets Program—a collaboration of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers—strives to inspire other young people to achieve excellence in their own creative endeavors and promote the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success. The program links the National Student Poets with audiences and neighborhood resources such as museums and libraries, and other community-anchor institutions and builds upon the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers' long-standing work with educators and creative teens through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. More information on the NSPP can be found at artandwriting.org/NSPP.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization, identifies teenagers with exceptional artistic and literary talent and brings their remarkable work to a national audience through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Founded in 1923, the Awards program is the longest-running, most prestigious initiative of its kind, having fostered the creativity and development of millions of young people through opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. During the past six years alone, students have submitted well over a million works of art and writing, and the program has provided more than $30 million in scholarships and awards for top participants. To learn more, visit www.artandwriting.org.