Are You the Next Voice of Detroit?

At InsideOut Literary Arts (iO), a 22-year old arts nonprofit serving Detroit students in classrooms and after school, we believe that youth voice is not simply a goal in our work, but a principle in how we approach every aspect of the organization. In our newest initiative – the Detroit Youth Poet Laureate and Ambassador awards ­– the voices of teen Detroiters extend from their notebooks and poetry slams into civic spaces and public dialogues. 

Through the end of the year, iO will be accepting submissions from teen poets, rappers, leaders, and activists for the 2018 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate and Ambassador awards. Open to all teens based in Wayne County, this initiative seeks to honor one Laureate and three Ambassadors to amplify the voices of young people in Detroit. 

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Regional laureates from across the country with award-winning writer, Jacqueline Woodson (r)

So, what is a poet laureate anyway? According to current United States Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, a laureate’s job is to highlight “the rigor and the honesty in language that poetry requires,” through which we may learn, “how we relate to each other and how we can better hear and imagine each other’s lives.” 

With these awards, we look to teen writers in Detroit to lead the charge toward honest interpersonal relationships and awareness. The 2017 Laureate, Hajjar Baban, used her voice and platform to spotlight the experiences of immigrants and refugees through a service project and forthcoming collection, Relative to Blood. 

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2017 Laureate, Hajjar Baban

Baban’s writing and performance took her to The Poetry Foundation in Chicago where she performed alongside award-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, to the Gracie Mansion in New York City where she was honored as a finalist (the runner-up!) for the inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate title, and most recently, as a keynote performer at MOVE 2017: An Arab American Summit to Advance Social Change.

The 2018 Detroit Youth Poet Laureate award winner will receive individual artistic mentorship over the course of the year and will have many opportunities to present and perform in civic and creative spaces. A manuscript of their work will be professionally designed and published, and they will be invited to compete for the 2019 National Youth Poet Laureate, a project by Urban Word.

The Detroit Youth Poet Laureate is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the McGregor Fund, the Dresner Foundation, and the Detroit Public Library.

For more information about the Detroit Youth Poet Laureate and Ambassador awards, please click here.


about the author

Benjamin Alfaro is the Teen Program Specialist at InsideOut Literary Arts, where he oversees the Detroit Youth Poet Laureate program, among other duties.


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