Oakland Public Library, main Downtown Branch. Application instructions for how to become Oakland's next poet laureate can be found on the library's website. Credit: Pete Rosos

Amanda Gorman transfixed the nation Wednesday when she performed her poem, “The Hill We Climb” during the inauguration ceremony for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. Gorman started as the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles in 2014 and became the country’s first national youth poet laureate in 2017, which led her to the steps of the Capitol on January 20 to recite a six-minute poem about her hopes and vision for the country. 

Oakland, like many other cities across the country, appoints a youth poet laureate each year to represent the city, perform at events, and promote literacy. After their year of service, youth receive a $5,000 scholarship. The application deadline for the next poet laureate is Feb. 1, 2021. The city’s 2020 youth poet laureate is Greer Nakadegawa-Lee, a student at Oakland Technical High School. 

If you’re a teen who was inspired by Gorman, read on for how you can apply to be Oakland’s next youth poet laureate. 

How do I apply?

Applications are being accepted until Monday, Feb. 1, on the Oakland library website. To apply, you’ll need to submit three original poems, a personal statement, and the name of an adult sponsor who can write you a letter of recommendation. If you don’t have internet access, paper applications are available at your local library. 

How is the poet laureate selected?

In the first round, poems are judged blindly, and the application guidelines advise candidates not to put their names or any other identifying information in the poems they submit. Judges will evaluate the work for content, craft, and voice. In the second and final round in April, candidates will recite their poems and interview with a panel of judges, and be evaluated on performance and leadership. 

The new poet laureate will be announced in June at an event with each of the finalists. 

What are the eligibility requirements?

Applicants must be Oakland residents, able to serve the entire year from June 2021 to June 2022, and between the ages 13 and 18 by Feb. 1, 2021. During the service year, the poet laureate must be local and not enrolled in college full-time. 

What does the youth poet laureate do?

As the city’s youth poet laureate, you’ll perform at public and private events, post about your experience on blogs and through social media, and create a poet-leader project. Past poet laureates have published books, created literature showcases, and led poetry workshops. After completing the year-long program, you’ll receive a $5,000 academic scholarship.

Can I nominate and apply for someone else?

Yes, if you can complete the application on their behalf. Doing so will require submitting three poems, listing the name of an adult sponsor, and providing contact information.  

For more information, email oaklandpoets@gmail.com, or call the Oakland Public Library at 510-761-7636.

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.