We have focused rather a lot on the literary arts in recent weeks. That should come as no surprise since so many people within the urban Appalachian community and within the ranks of the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition are extremely busy poets and writers. Many of our poets and writers are beginning the new year with exciting new roles and projects. Now we have the opportunity to shine the spotlight on young poets in our area. WordPlay Cincinnati is hosting the competition for our greater Cincinnati Youth Poet Laureate Competition.
The Youth Poet Laureate project is part of the national program called Urban Word. The project offers a one-of-a-kind effort to help young poets and to bring attention to their important role in our society. Cincinnati Youth Poet Laureate is hosted locally by WordPlay, a non-profit organization that fosters storytelling, writing, performance and visual art as ways to empower young people in their communities. The Youth Poet Laureate program is a rare opportunity for local youth to get involved in a national program that honors and shines a light on young voices in poetry.
This is the same national program that gave us the young poet Amanda Gorman (featured in cover photo) who read at the inauguration of President Joe Biden. Gorman is the youngest inaugural poet in American history. Urban Word makes it their mission to promote critical literacy, youth development and leadership through free and uncensored writing, college prep, and performance opportunities. These goals are shared by WordPlay Cincinnati, and this is why they have emerged as the hosts of our local poet laureate program.
WordPlay Cincinnati, based in Northside, is a community-based organization that works to interrupt the cycle of poverty by fostering literacy and storytelling skills which empower young people. Founded in 2012, WordPlay encourages and helps young people break generational cycles of poverty through personal discovery, building academic skills, and reading and writing skills. They provide a dynamic set of programs for young people led by teaching artists in the visual, performing or literary arts who use creativity as a vehicle for personal storytelling, critical literacy and a range of youth development skills. WordPlay Cincinnati recently moved into their newly acquired space and is putting the finishing touches on the building.
To get a better sense of the Youth Poet Laureate program, I spoke to Amy Tuttle, Chief Director of Programming at WordPlay. Tuttle explained that “WordPlay naturally presents a real sweet spot for teens since our work help them bridge the gap between what is happening in their communities and their creative work.” The Youth Poet Laureate program is a natural fit for WordPlay. Tuttle went on to tell me that this project has been a two-year effort: “It began in 2020, and with the interruptions presented by the pandemic, we have been working with the national program to finally bringing the Cincinnati Youth Poet Laureate program to life.” Tuttle told me that this program aligns perfectly with the mission of WordPlay since it works with “the intersection of creative activity and community engagement.”
The National Youth Poet Laureate program partners with local youth literacy programs around the country to foster and encourage young poets. While creativity is clearly at the heart of the National Youth Poet Laureate program, a commitment to social and community engagement is just as central to this program. WordPlay centers its work on just this type of social and community engagement and is the likely host of our local Youth Poet Laureate program. In fostering this kind of civic-minded creative work, WordPlay and the Cincinnati Youth Poet Laureate program sustain the idea that the there is a natural symbiosis between community engagement and creative work.
Like the Poet Laureate of Cincinnati, a position supported by the Mercantile Library and the City of Cincinnati, the Youth Poet Laureate will serve as community representative. The program aims to identify youth writers and leaders who are committed to community service through poetry, performance, and social justice. There is a long list of prizes for the Youth Poet Laureate. A link for the program and application is below, but the prizes include publication of five poems, a $1000 scholarship, and 1:1 mentoring sessions with past Cincinnati Poets Laureate Pauletta Hansel (also a UACC Core member) and Manuel Iris. Not a bad haul for a young local poet.
One need only step into a local poetry reading to witness the fact that our city has no shortage of young poets. They find ways to get their messages out in ways that are as creative as their poetry. With the Cincinnati Youth Poet Laureate program, young poets have an opportunity to have their work celebrated and to receive valuable assistance with their creative work. The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition is grateful to WordPlay Cincinnati for hosting this program. As part of the National Poet Laureate program, one of our own will take their place as the Youth Poet Laureate of Cincinnati. For information on how to apply for the program, see the link below.
For more information about WordPlay Cincinnati: https://www.wordplaycincy.org/. Mike Templeton is a writer, independent scholar, barista, cook, guitar player, and accidental jack-of-all-trades. Check out his profile in UACC’s new Cultural Directory. He lives in downtown Cincinnati with his wife who is a talented photographer. They spend their free time walking around the city snapping photos. She looks up at that the grandeur of the city, while Mike always seems to be staring at the ground.