Thursday, May 27, 2021

Meet the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate: Alexandra Huynh

I was looking for a way to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month and voice my support for efforts to stop AAPI hate, but I had already posted so much about poetry by Asian Pacific American poets. See my February post here with a list of poetry books by AAPI poets, for example. But there is always so much to celebrate about the beauty of work by AAPI writers, like my dear friend Janet Wong. (Watch for my video interview with her coming soon!) 
Image source: Urban Word NYC
And then this news popped into my e-mailbox! Kismet! This week, the new 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate was named and it's Alexandra Huynh. Congrats to this bright new talent! Urban Word NYC (the home of the Laureate program) made the announcement saying, "A second-generation Vietnamese American, Huynh employs poetry as a tool of self-reclamation and social justice for marginalized communities. This fall, Huynh will be a freshman at Stanford University where she aims to combine her passions for creative writing, science, and civic engagement." 

This is the same program that gave us Amanda Gorman! You remember her, right? The bright, amazing young woman who presented her original poem at the Inauguration of President Biden in January! The other finalists in the Laureate program included Serena Yang (NYC Youth Poet Laureate and Northeastern Regional Ambassador), Alora Young (Nashville Youth Poet Laureate and Southern Regional Ambassador), and Faye Harrison (Ann Arbor Youth Poet Laureate and Midwest Regional Ambassador), and Alexandra Huynh (Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate and Western Regional Ambassador) who was named the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate. What a group of young women to watch! 

Urban Word NYC notes: "As the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate 18-year-old Huynh will serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States using poetry as a platform for the literary arts and civic engagement. Huynh will represent the National Youth Poet Laureate program and the national youth literary arts community through a series of performances and civic engagements through May 2022."

Urban Word NYC has an excellent YouTube channel with lots of fabulous footage. Watch Alexandra perform at the Kennedy Center ceremony here:

WOW, right?
And in her original "application" video to the Laureate program she talks about her "poetry journey."

It's young people like this who give me such hope for the future! Their voices, their views, their passions, and their poetry are all so powerful and inspiring! 

Next, go to Michelle Kogan's place where she is hosting all our Poetry Friday posts this week. So much to read and ponder and celebrate! 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Tribute to Mary Lee Hahn

I'm delighted to join the Poetry Friday fray in celebrating the wonderful Mary Lee Hahn! Mary Lee is retiring from classroom teaching, but not from continuing to impact the world of poetry for young people. She has been the tracker of Poetry Friday hosting gigs, organizing us all to keep us moving forward and maintained her own blog, A Year of Reading since 2006. WOW! It has been a mainstay in our field for insights into teaching young people, reviews of the latest literature, and as a source of poems, poetry, and poetic inspiration. Mary Lee is also a poet and author herself, publishing Reconsidering Read-Aloud (Stenhouse) and her own poems in multiple anthologies. Janet Wong and I have been lucky enough to feature her contributions in several of our anthologies and I want to pause and share those gems (featured in graphics I created). 

See? Mary Lee has such a range of topics, tones, and styles she implements to craft poems that are engaging, informative, and inspiring. Her poem "Cancer" is especially meaningful to me since Mary Lee and I are both cancer survivors and she reached out to me privately with so much care, love, and support when I was first diagnosed nearly ten years ago. (We're fine now!) That's exactly who Mary Lee is-- kind, caring, creative, organized, determined, collaborative, and so much more. It's a real pleasure to pause and honor her as a person, a poet, a teacher, a leader, and a friend!Do you want to learn more about Mary Lee Hahn? Check out the posts of many other Poetry Friday bloggers who are showcasing #MarvelousMaryLee and #PoemsforMaryLee today. Start at Christie's place, Wondering and Wandering. See you there!

Friday, May 14, 2021

Remembering Arnold Adoff

Poet and anthologist Arnold Adoff died last week at his home in Yellow Springs, Ohio at age 85. As Shannon Maughan noted in his obituary in Publishers Weekly, Arnold Adoff was "widely noted for his inventive poetry style and for depicting the African American experience in his work" and published more than 30 books for children and young adults and received the National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children in recognition of his body of work in 1988. And that body of work is wide-ranging, socially conscious, personal and engaging, rich and creative in its use of language, and playful with poetic forms. Here's just a sampling I pulled from my own bookshelves:

Maughan goes on to observe:
"Adoff had begun collecting Black literature in the late 1950s, and that pursuit dovetailed with his observation that the ethnically diverse students in his classrooms were exposed to racist textbooks and didn’t have access to books and magazines that accurately reflected their experiences. Wanting to address that, he shared his favorite poems and works by Black writers with the kids. Once, Adoff recruited a friend—an editor at Macmillan—to make photocopies of some poems so he could distribute them to his class. The friend was impressed by the selections and suggested Adoff meet with the editor-in-chief about turning them into a book. The result was his first anthology, I Am the Darker Brother: An Anthology of Modern Poems by Negro Americans, published by Macmillan in 1968. Of his passion for curating collections like this one, Adoff told Something About the Author, 'I want my anthologies of Black American writing to make Black kids strong in their knowledge of themselves and their great literary heritage—give them facts and people and power. I also want these Black books of mine to give knowledge to White kids around the country, so that mutual respect and understanding will come from mutual learning. We can go beyond the murders and the muddles of the present.'"

His anthologies, I Am the Darker Brother and My Black Me were particularly pivotal for my own reading of African American poets for young people. I wrote about this on my blog ages ago in this post: 
I AM THE DARKER BROTHERHe also impressed me with his unique approach to form with very little punctuation and generous spacing which he called “shaped speech.” And hearing him read aloud from his work was always a powerful experience with his staccato rhythms and distinctive gravelly voice. I have a previous blog post that features a 
Video of Arnold reading from ROOTS AND BLUES. In this talk, he also advocated for reading any/every poem three times: 
  • first simply for information (like reading a work of nonfiction), 
  • secondly for meaning (what is the poem/poet saying), and 
  • thirdly for nuance (how does the poem work, make you feel, do what it does). 
I love how he encourages us to dig into the layers of poetry!

I think Roots and Blues: A Celebration was one of his last published works and it was critically acclaimed and won multiple awards. One of my students created an in-depth readers' guide for it that you might find useful. It's here:

Janet (Wong) and I were lucky to collaborate with Arnold on several projects-- he was always generous in contributing a poem and helping us spread the word. Here's one poem he wrote for one of our Poetry Friday anthologies that shows you his distinctive approach.
Arnold Adoff was a passionate poet and anthologist and also a kind and generous soul. He was devoted to his wife, Virginia Hamilton, a major figure in children's literature with multiple awards including the Newbery Award, Andersen Award and even a MacArthur "genius" grant. Arnold's son, Jaime Adoff has published several works of poetry for young people himself. Arnold was active on social media and I always appreciated his lifting up of social justice issues and celebrating the work of others. He will be missed, but his spirit lives on in his family and friends, and in the beautiful work he leaves behind. 

The lovely Irene Latham is hosting our Poetry Friday thoughts this week, so head on over to Live Your Poem... and promise me that you'll seek out a book by Arnold Adoff soon!