Students from the National Student Poets Program discuss their work and the importance of poetry in the lives of young people today. The National Student Poets Program is the nation’s highest honor for young poets (grades 10–11) creating original work. Annually, five students are selected for one year of service, each representing a different geographic region of the country. The Program believes in the power of youth voices to create and sustain meaningful change, and supports them in being heard. Four of the five 2021 National Student Poets joined us for this program: Aanika Eragam, Kevin Gu, Kechi Mbah, and Sarah Fathima Mohammed.
The following conversation originally took place May 15th, 2022 and was recorded live at the American Writers Festival.
About the 2021 National Student Poets:
Aanika Eragam is a senior at Milton High School in Milton, Georgia who serves as the 2021 National Student Poet for the Southeast. Through her mother’s bedtime tales of South Indian mythology, Aanika was first exposed to the power of storytelling in connecting her to her cultural heritage, unlocking foreign perspectives, and exploring history. Since then, she’s written poetry and creative nonfiction about culture, family, girlhood, and body image. Aanika serves as the 2021 Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate and the Editor-in-Chief of her high school literary magazine The Globe.
Kevin Gu is a Chinese American from Boston and the 2021 National Student Poet of the Northeast. His work has been included in Rattle, The National Poetry Quarterly, Ember Journal, and The Eunoia Review among others. On his off days, he enjoys hunting for underrated boba shops and eating cold watermelon.
Kechi Mbah is a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School and a Houston native. She first found a love for poetry when she stumbled upon a YouTube video of a Brave New Voices slam competition in the fall of 2019 and has been performing and writing poetry ever since. Her poetry explores many avenues from making the known strange to chronicling her experiences as a Nigerian-American and the histories of her people. She currently serves as the 2021 National Student Poet of the Southwest and her work can be found in Blue Marble Review, The Incandescent Review, elementia, and elsewhere.
Sarah Fathima Mohammed, daughter of Indian Muslim immigrants, is the 2021-22 National Student Poet representing the West Region, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets. She writes poetry sourced in grief, faith, and longing because, for her people, these emotions are inherited. When she travels back to her hometown in Kumbakonam, India, Sarah sits in circles with girls at the mosque, reading Safia Elhillo and Fatimah Asghar’s anthology of Muslim voices, Halal If You Hear Me. When she is not writing, Sarah loves long morning walks with her family and listening to music by Yuna.