Unique and powerful voices are all around us
RIGHT NOW, poetry has our attention.
On January 20, Amanda Gorman, the youngest inaugural poet in US history, performed her breathtaking poem The Hill We Climb in front of 40 million viewers. The power and sublime beauty of her words, the grace of her poetic hand gestures, and the brilliance with which she captured this moment in history inspired audiences around the world. It was a piece of writing that at once held the trauma of our past, the grief of our present, and the hopes for our future.
That evening, when Amanda Gorman went on CNN’s 360°, news anchor Anderson Cooper said to her, “It is just so thrilling to see such a bright talent burst like a supernova.”
As executive director of 826 Boston, a youth writing and publishing organization based in Roxbury that is part of the largest youth writing network in the country, it has been a gift to suddenly find poetry on the evening news, late-night talk shows, and even at the Superbowl. Amanda Gorman, who is a champion of youth voice and leadership and is on the board of 826 National, has inspired a nation to embrace the written word.
And yet, while the widespread emergence of Amanda’s extraordinary talent is cause for celebration and has skyrocketed her to celebrity status, it would be a disservice to lose sight of the abundance of talented young poets right here in our own communities. Gorman was 16 years old when she became the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles. There are unique and powerful voices all around us, with important stories to tell, ready to blaze their own paths forward.
Alondra Bobadilla is just one example. She’s a Hyde Park resident, and a senior at Fenway High School. In January 2020, she was selected as Boston’s first youth poet laureate. From her poem Tomorrow: “It is time to ask little girls and little boys what they want to do, not what they want to be. For the title is weightless, but the work is the fruit of good teaching rooted in intention and loving kindness.”
Alondra joins the ranks of youth poet laureates in 40 other cities across the country.
The talent in our city overflows at youth spoken word events and festivals like Wicked Loud (formerly Louder Than A Bomb; a MassLEAP event), and in 826 Boston publications that feature collaborations with outstanding teachers in the Boston Public Schools. The creativity, wit, and beauty that pulses through the writing of these young authors frequently leaves audiences awestruck.
Alondra was chosen from a group of 10 semi-finalists, including Tariq Charles and Eliza Carpenter from Dorchester, and Asiyah Herrera from Roxbury—three students who will be published in How We May Appear, 826 Boston’s city-wide anthology of poems and essays featuring a foreword by Amanda Gorman (release date April 2021).
In the collection, Asiyah, who is the 826 youth literary advisory board team leader, writes:
“Mi casa is breathed to life by a thousand songs,
A thousand ancestors
A Mosaic of mimicry,
Mi casa cantas debajo del luna llena,
She is full of stories,
Intricate, detailed, like handiwork of our quilts.”
In her foreword to introduce the book, Gorman responds to Asiyah’s piece, and to the anthology as a whole: “Here, words are understood as mosaic, quilt, as root, as instruments of connection and humanity. Reading the collection from my sunlit apartment in Los Angeles, it is hard not to be struck with the vision that these authors present: a vibrant and youthful Boston, with its tongue of many languages, and heart of many songs.”
Amanda Gorman has left us with an invitation to listen, and to support the young poets and writers who share their vision with us. Go to their readings. Support their work. Snap your fingers in appreciation.
A supernova is a rare stellar explosion. While Amanda Gorman’s bright light has captured a nation’s attention, may it also build an awareness that this is a time for poetry to continue to inspire us, to move us, and to help us understand the moment. May it be a cultural awakening in which we recognize that young artists of color are at the center of it, and that their voices have been loud and clear for a long time. Now that we’re paying attention, we need to keep listening.
Jessica Drench is the executive director of 826 Boston, a youth writing and publishing nonprofit organization based in Roxbury. You can read more young voices on their website’s gallery of student work at 826boston.org.