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Lisa Lucas Talks Books

“Books tend to get short shrift in the cultural world,” says Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, in this interview with James Brown. Lucas speaks about the foundation’s goal to promote a love of writing and the BookUp program, which connects young people with published authors and provides free copies of books. 

Lisa Lucas Talks Books

“Books tend to get short shrift in the cultural world,” says Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, in this interview with James Brown. Lucas speaks about the foundation’s goal to promote a love of writing and the BookUp program, which connects young people with published authors and provides free copies of books. 

Lisa Lucas Talks Books

“Books tend to get short shrift in the cultural world,” says Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation, in this interview with James Brown. Lucas speaks about the foundation’s goal to promote a love of writing and the BookUp program, which connects young people with published authors and provides free copies of books. 

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository DialogueDialogue is one of the most versatile of all narrative fiction techniques. It allows us to characterize, to create both context and subtext, to entertain via humor, and to share some of the best and punchiest prose rhythms in the entire book. Because it is the only narrative technique that is a “true” form of showing, instead of telling (aka explaining, aka describing), it also creates some of the strongest and most vibrant sensations in all of writing.

However, its very versatility can make dialogue easy to abuse. One of the most common ways in which it is abused is by turning it into expository dialogue.

Expository dialogue is dialogue that explains. At its rudest and crudest, expository dialogue takes the form of the infamous “as you know, Bob” conversation, in which one character tells another character something the other character already knows, with the first character then telling the second character he knows he knows it. (Yeah, it’s just as bad as it sounds.)

However, expository dialogue can be even subtler and trickier than that. It can slide into dialogue in ways that may not be as egregious as “as you know, Bob,” but are certainly not the best choice for sharing information with your readers.

Is Expository Dialogue Sneaking Into Your Writing?

As western author Brad Dennison pointed out in an email:

I don’t think enough writers understand that a novel isn’t just a movie on paper.

In a movie, information can be shared in only two ways. Either, you share it visually (e.g., the bank robber has a gun in his hand) or through dialogue (e.g., the bank teller yells, “He has a gun!”)

Modern writers are influenced in our storytelling as much, if not more so, by movies and TV than we are by books themselves. Too often, this means we might also attempt to limit ourselves to sharing information via expository dialogue.

Most writers these days are smart enough to avoid blatant “as you know, Bob” gimmicks. So they ratchet up the sophistication knob a few notches and sneak that info into their dialogue in less blatant ways. Sometimes this works admirably, sometimes not.

What’s the difference between expository dialogue that works and expository dialogue that doesn’t?

The bottom line is always: Does it make sense for the characters to be talking about this?

What Bad Expository Dialogue Looks Like

Bad expository dialogue looks like this:

Evan smacked his fist against the Thunderbird’s dashboard. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

Cara looked up from her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “Doing what?”

“You know, all of this. Robbing a bank! We couldn’t come up with a better way to pay off Don Carlo for accidentally getting his son arrested?”

“I know, I know. How were we supposed to know Jack was really an undercover agent?”

“That’s not the point. The point is you’ve hatched this crazy plan to storm into a bank in broad daylight, wearing Frozen masks. You don’t even like Frozen!”

Now, this conversation isn’t that bad. It shares backstory and character motivation in a snappy minimum of words. Neither Evan nor Cara stooped to saying “as you know.” But we do have Cara acknowledging  she already knows everything Evan is telling her (“I know, I know”), which is a huge tip-off that this dialogue isn’t as sensible as it seems.

2 Ways to Fix Expository Dialogue

You have two options open to you. Either you fix the expository dialogue so it’s smoother, smarter, and less obvious. Or you work your way around the need for dialogue altogether.

1. How to Write Good Expository Dialogue

It is totally, totally possible to write really great expository dialogue. Good screenwriters are da bomb at this. Classic cinema, in particular, offers a plethora of excellent examples of how to rattle off tons of information in dialogue that’s so smart viewers don’t even realize they’re being force fed the facts.

Consider these gems from Casablanca. All of these exchanges offer important information about the characters and story, but all are so rapid-fire and sharp-witted that we’d be sorry if they weren’t in the movie:

Major Strasser: We have a complete dossier on you. Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also we know why you left Paris. Don’t worry, we are not going to broadcast it.

Rick: [reading dossier] Are my eyes really brown?

Casablanca 3

—or—

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you’ve never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.

Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Casablanca 2

—or—

Captain Renault: My dear Ricky, you overestimate the influence of the Gestapo. I don’t interfere with them and they don’t interfere with me. In Casablanca, I am master of my fate! I am…

Police Officer: Major Strasser is here, sir!

Rick: You were saying?

Captain Renault: Excuse me.

Casablanca

The key is to make all dialogue pull double or even triple duty. Avoid on-the-nose revelations of information. Instead, focus on conveying the information through what the characters aren’t saying. And always make them say it in interesting, or even humorous, ways. Humor makes any pill go down easier.

2. How to Share Exposition Without Using Dialogue

As a novelist, you have more expository options open to you than do screenwriters. You don’t have to cram all the exposition into dialogue.

Like screenwriters, you too can “visually” share information, via description. But you can also simply tell readers.

“Tell” has become something of a dirty word among writers. But it doesn’t have to be. Used wisely, telling can allow you to share information in the simplest, most straightforward, least intrusive manner possible.

For example, assuming our ill-fated bank robbers from the initial example hadn’t already had an opportunity to show readers the events they’re talking about, this information could be shared much more intuitively in a simple paragraph of narrative:

Cara handed Evan a plastic Princess Anna mask.

He glared, but took it anyway. This is what they got for being stupid enough to believe Jack the Stupid Undercover Agent when he said he just wanted to be stupid friends with Stupid Little Carlo. Still, there had to be a better way to pay back Don Carlo than robbing this bank.

Speaking of stupid.

Dialogue is one of your most valuable weapons. Hone it to its sharpest edge by using it for exposition only when that exposition makes sense and can offer some of the most interesting conversations in the entire book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you think expository dialogue is different in written fiction than in screenplays? Tell me in the comments!

The post How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository DialogueDialogue is one of the most versatile of all narrative fiction techniques. It allows us to characterize, to create both context and subtext, to entertain via humor, and to share some of the best and punchiest prose rhythms in the entire book. Because it is the only narrative technique that is a “true” form of showing, instead of telling (aka explaining, aka describing), it also creates some of the strongest and most vibrant sensations in all of writing.

However, its very versatility can make dialogue easy to abuse. One of the most common ways in which it is abused is by turning it into expository dialogue.

Expository dialogue is dialogue that explains. At its rudest and crudest, expository dialogue takes the form of the infamous “as you know, Bob” conversation, in which one character tells another character something the other character already knows, with the first character then telling the second character he knows he knows it. (Yeah, it’s just as bad as it sounds.)

However, expository dialogue can be even subtler and trickier than that. It can slide into dialogue in ways that may not be as egregious as “as you know, Bob,” but are certainly not the best choice for sharing information with your readers.

Is Expository Dialogue Sneaking Into Your Writing?

As western author Brad Dennison pointed out in an email:

I don’t think enough writers understand that a novel isn’t just a movie on paper.

In a movie, information can be shared in only two ways. Either, you share it visually (e.g., the bank robber has a gun in his hand) or through dialogue (e.g., the bank teller yells, “He has a gun!”)

Modern writers are influenced in our storytelling as much, if not more so, by movies and TV than we are by books themselves. Too often, this means we might also attempt to limit ourselves to sharing information via expository dialogue.

Most writers these days are smart enough to avoid blatant “as you know, Bob” gimmicks. So they ratchet up the sophistication knob a few notches and sneak that info into their dialogue in less blatant ways. Sometimes this works admirably, sometimes not.

What’s the difference between expository dialogue that works and expository dialogue that doesn’t?

The bottom line is always: Does it make sense for the characters to be talking about this?

What Bad Expository Dialogue Looks Like

Bad expository dialogue looks like this:

Evan smacked his fist against the Thunderbird’s dashboard. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

Cara looked up from her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “Doing what?”

“You know, all of this. Robbing a bank! We couldn’t come up with a better way to pay off Don Carlo for accidentally getting his son arrested?”

“I know, I know. How were we supposed to know Jack was really an undercover agent?”

“That’s not the point. The point is you’ve hatched this crazy plan to storm into a bank in broad daylight, wearing Frozen masks. You don’t even like Frozen!”

Now, this conversation isn’t that bad. It shares backstory and character motivation in a snappy minimum of words. Neither Evan nor Cara stooped to saying “as you know.” But we do have Cara acknowledging  she already knows everything Evan is telling her (“I know, I know”), which is a huge tip-off that this dialogue isn’t as sensible as it seems.

2 Ways to Fix Expository Dialogue

You have two options open to you. Either you fix the expository dialogue so it’s smoother, smarter, and less obvious. Or you work your way around the need for dialogue altogether.

1. How to Write Good Expository Dialogue

It is totally, totally possible to write really great expository dialogue. Good screenwriters are da bomb at this. Classic cinema, in particular, offers a plethora of excellent examples of how to rattle off tons of information in dialogue that’s so smart viewers don’t even realize they’re being force fed the facts.

Consider these gems from Casablanca. All of these exchanges offer important information about the characters and story, but all are so rapid-fire and sharp-witted that we’d be sorry if they weren’t in the movie:

Major Strasser: We have a complete dossier on you. Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also we know why you left Paris. Don’t worry, we are not going to broadcast it.

Rick: [reading dossier] Are my eyes really brown?

Casablanca 3

—or—

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you’ve never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.

Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Casablanca 2

—or—

Captain Renault: My dear Ricky, you overestimate the influence of the Gestapo. I don’t interfere with them and they don’t interfere with me. In Casablanca, I am master of my fate! I am…

Police Officer: Major Strasser is here, sir!

Rick: You were saying?

Captain Renault: Excuse me.

Casablanca

The key is to make all dialogue pull double or even triple duty. Avoid on-the-nose revelations of information. Instead, focus on conveying the information through what the characters aren’t saying. And always make them say it in interesting, or even humorous, ways. Humor makes any pill go down easier.

2. How to Share Exposition Without Using Dialogue

As a novelist, you have more expository options open to you than do screenwriters. You don’t have to cram all the exposition into dialogue.

Like screenwriters, you too can “visually” share information, via description. But you can also simply tell readers.

“Tell” has become something of a dirty word among writers. But it doesn’t have to be. Used wisely, telling can allow you to share information in the simplest, most straightforward, least intrusive manner possible.

For example, assuming our ill-fated bank robbers from the initial example hadn’t already had an opportunity to show readers the events they’re talking about, this information could be shared much more intuitively in a simple paragraph of narrative:

Cara handed Evan a plastic Princess Anna mask.

He glared, but took it anyway. This is what they got for being stupid enough to believe Jack the Stupid Undercover Agent when he said he just wanted to be stupid friends with Stupid Little Carlo. Still, there had to be a better way to pay back Don Carlo than robbing this bank.

Speaking of stupid.

Dialogue is one of your most valuable weapons. Hone it to its sharpest edge by using it for exposition only when that exposition makes sense and can offer some of the most interesting conversations in the entire book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you think expository dialogue is different in written fiction than in screenplays? Tell me in the comments!

The post How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue

How to Write (and Not Write) Expository DialogueDialogue is one of the most versatile of all narrative fiction techniques. It allows us to characterize, to create both context and subtext, to entertain via humor, and to share some of the best and punchiest prose rhythms in the entire book. Because it is the only narrative technique that is a “true” form of showing, instead of telling (aka explaining, aka describing), it also creates some of the strongest and most vibrant sensations in all of writing.

However, its very versatility can make dialogue easy to abuse. One of the most common ways in which it is abused is by turning it into expository dialogue.

Expository dialogue is dialogue that explains. At its rudest and crudest, expository dialogue takes the form of the infamous “as you know, Bob” conversation, in which one character tells another character something the other character already knows, with the first character then telling the second character he knows he knows it. (Yeah, it’s just as bad as it sounds.)

However, expository dialogue can be even subtler and trickier than that. It can slide into dialogue in ways that may not be as egregious as “as you know, Bob,” but are certainly not the best choice for sharing information with your readers.

Is Expository Dialogue Sneaking Into Your Writing?

As western author Brad Dennison pointed out in an email:

I don’t think enough writers understand that a novel isn’t just a movie on paper.

In a movie, information can be shared in only two ways. Either, you share it visually (e.g., the bank robber has a gun in his hand) or through dialogue (e.g., the bank teller yells, “He has a gun!”)

Modern writers are influenced in our storytelling as much, if not more so, by movies and TV than we are by books themselves. Too often, this means we might also attempt to limit ourselves to sharing information via expository dialogue.

Most writers these days are smart enough to avoid blatant “as you know, Bob” gimmicks. So they ratchet up the sophistication knob a few notches and sneak that info into their dialogue in less blatant ways. Sometimes this works admirably, sometimes not.

What’s the difference between expository dialogue that works and expository dialogue that doesn’t?

The bottom line is always: Does it make sense for the characters to be talking about this?

What Bad Expository Dialogue Looks Like

Bad expository dialogue looks like this:

Evan smacked his fist against the Thunderbird’s dashboard. “I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

Cara looked up from her white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel. “Doing what?”

“You know, all of this. Robbing a bank! We couldn’t come up with a better way to pay off Don Carlo for accidentally getting his son arrested?”

“I know, I know. How were we supposed to know Jack was really an undercover agent?”

“That’s not the point. The point is you’ve hatched this crazy plan to storm into a bank in broad daylight, wearing Frozen masks. You don’t even like Frozen!”

Now, this conversation isn’t that bad. It shares backstory and character motivation in a snappy minimum of words. Neither Evan nor Cara stooped to saying “as you know.” But we do have Cara acknowledging  she already knows everything Evan is telling her (“I know, I know”), which is a huge tip-off that this dialogue isn’t as sensible as it seems.

2 Ways to Fix Expository Dialogue

You have two options open to you. Either you fix the expository dialogue so it’s smoother, smarter, and less obvious. Or you work your way around the need for dialogue altogether.

1. How to Write Good Expository Dialogue

It is totally, totally possible to write really great expository dialogue. Good screenwriters are da bomb at this. Classic cinema, in particular, offers a plethora of excellent examples of how to rattle off tons of information in dialogue that’s so smart viewers don’t even realize they’re being force fed the facts.

Consider these gems from Casablanca. All of these exchanges offer important information about the characters and story, but all are so rapid-fire and sharp-witted that we’d be sorry if they weren’t in the movie:

Major Strasser: We have a complete dossier on you. Richard Blaine, American, age 37. Cannot return to his country. The reason is a little vague. We also know what you did in Paris, Mr. Blaine, and also we know why you left Paris. Don’t worry, we are not going to broadcast it.

Rick: [reading dossier] Are my eyes really brown?

Casablanca 3

—or—

Captain Renault: Rick, there are many exit visas sold in this café, but we know that you’ve never sold one. That is the reason we permit you to remain open.

Rick: Oh? I thought it was because I let you win at roulette.

Captain Renault: That is another reason.

Casablanca 2

—or—

Captain Renault: My dear Ricky, you overestimate the influence of the Gestapo. I don’t interfere with them and they don’t interfere with me. In Casablanca, I am master of my fate! I am…

Police Officer: Major Strasser is here, sir!

Rick: You were saying?

Captain Renault: Excuse me.

Casablanca

The key is to make all dialogue pull double or even triple duty. Avoid on-the-nose revelations of information. Instead, focus on conveying the information through what the characters aren’t saying. And always make them say it in interesting, or even humorous, ways. Humor makes any pill go down easier.

2. How to Share Exposition Without Using Dialogue

As a novelist, you have more expository options open to you than do screenwriters. You don’t have to cram all the exposition into dialogue.

Like screenwriters, you too can “visually” share information, via description. But you can also simply tell readers.

“Tell” has become something of a dirty word among writers. But it doesn’t have to be. Used wisely, telling can allow you to share information in the simplest, most straightforward, least intrusive manner possible.

For example, assuming our ill-fated bank robbers from the initial example hadn’t already had an opportunity to show readers the events they’re talking about, this information could be shared much more intuitively in a simple paragraph of narrative:

Cara handed Evan a plastic Princess Anna mask.

He glared, but took it anyway. This is what they got for being stupid enough to believe Jack the Stupid Undercover Agent when he said he just wanted to be stupid friends with Stupid Little Carlo. Still, there had to be a better way to pay back Don Carlo than robbing this bank.

Speaking of stupid.

Dialogue is one of your most valuable weapons. Hone it to its sharpest edge by using it for exposition only when that exposition makes sense and can offer some of the most interesting conversations in the entire book.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! How do you think expository dialogue is different in written fiction than in screenplays? Tell me in the comments!

The post How to Write (and Not Write) Expository Dialogue appeared first on Helping Writers Become Authors.

Writing Tips: How to Finally Get that Novel Written

I started writing journals in 1990. I was 15, and I dreamed of being a novelist. 

But I didn’t seriously commit to writing my first novel until 2009 when I was 34, nearly 20 years later. 

Sure, I had plenty of ideas, and I read a LOT of writing books and went to all kinds of writing classes. But I didn’t get my butt in the chair and finally get that book written until I sorted out my processes and made the time.

In today’s article, Anita Eversen gives some tips on how you can finally write your novel. 

You’re not the only one who wants to write a novel. And maybe you even got started and have an unfinished chapter or two lying around. But to stand out from the crowd, you have to get that novel written. And even though it’s no longer January, it’s not too late to sit down and do what needs to get done.

But how do you actually finish your novel?

After all, there’s a reason why you haven’t completed it yet, maybe even several reasons. Maybe you have four kids like me, each one of them could be a good enough reason never to write a single thing. Maybe you don’t have a plan. Maybe writing a novel is just not that important to you. Most likely, you haven’t made it a priority yet.

If getting your novel written is really your goal, then it’s about time to figure out how to get it done.

How to set the perfect goal for your novel writing journey

If you’re like Stephen King, then you can set a daily word count goal of 2,000 words and publish 3 or 4 books a year. If you have the option to write full-time, because someone else is paying your bills, then you should definitely do that. But for most of us, writing starts out as a part-time gig.

So a reasonable goal might be to write 500 words on at least 4 days every week, or to spend 30 minutes on writing every day. Some days you’ll write a lot, some days you’ll stare at the screen the entire time. But it can be done.

What’s a good goal for you? That all depends on what you’re trying to accomplish.

It makes sense to start with the end in mind. When do you want to finish your book? Do you want it done in 6 months? Do you want it finished by the end of the year? How long will your book be? Will it have 50,000 words or 100,000 words or more or less or something in between?

The next step is just doing the math. If you want to write a 50,000-word novel in six months, then you’ll need to write almost 2,000 words a week. If you write 4 days a week, you’ll only need 500 words each day. That’s not so scary, is it? That’s completely doable.

Now you really shouldn’t read the next step until you have figured out what your goal is. So let’s take a moment to write down your final goal. To make life easier for you, you could just fill in the blanks for these sentences.

I’ll have a book with ________ words written by _________. That means I’ll need to write ________ words each week. That’s _______ per day if I write _______ days a week.

Here’s my current goal for an example:
I’ll have a book with 60,000 words written by the end of December. That means I’ll need to write 1,300 words each week. That’s 325 words per day if I write 4 days a week.

By the way, don’t try to aim for writing 7 days out of the week. It won’t happen, at least not for six months straight. You have to give yourself permission to rest, too. Besides, sometimes when you take a writing break, you actually come back more creative, because your brain has been thinking up ideas the entire time.

How to add some incentives to keep yourself on track

Now that you have your goals in place (because you didn’t just skip through that part, did you?), you have to figure out how you can keep yourself on track. Just like losing weight, writing a book takes a tremendous amount of effort and willpower. It helps if you have some incentives to keep you motivated.

Now you probably don’t have the funds to buy yourself a treat every day you meet your writing goal. But you should plan on doing something special when you hit a major milestone. Let’s say you’ve written 10,000 words. Now it’s time to buy yourself that book you’ve been wanting.

Ideally, you’ll write those rewards in your plan. So you’ll know exactly what you’re getting for writing 10,000 words. If the rewards don’t excite you, then you haven’t chosen the right rewards. And if you buy the reward without doing the work, then you’re only cheating yourself.

Why you should plan for accountability – write with a team

Everything is easier when you have a supportive team. Losing weight is easier if you have a buddy tagging along to the gym. Writing is easier if you’re being held accountable by your writing partner. There are several options for this.

You could directly team up with another writer and report to each other about your progress. Of course, this might be more effective in a bigger group. Speaking of groups, there is a Facebook group called “Writing Accountability Group”, where the group’s founder asks about your plans every day without fail. If you tend to waste a lot of time on Facebook, then this might be a good group for you to join.

There are other ways to add some accountability for your writing time. You could take it upon yourself to post to social media to your friends every day about your achievements. You could make a public bet to hold yourself accountable. You could suggest that if you don’t follow through with your plan, you’ll have to do something really humiliating.

You could also hire a coach, much like a workout coach, to keep you accountable. All in all, there is no shortage of possibilities, and most of them are free. You just have to take them!

It’s time to create an action plan – why it makes sense to plan your steps in advance

Do you know why successful people schedule personal tasks? That’s because that’s the only way to ensure they get done. You put a dentist visit on the schedule, because it has to get done. Similarly, you should put writing on the schedule if you’re serious about finishing your novel (or nonfiction book).

busywomanBetter yet, you should have a plan to follow. It can be a weekly plan of what you will write. It can be a daily plan of writing for a certain length of time. It could be deadlines for milestones.

A good plan is the plan that works for you. But it needs to be in writing, and you need to do your best to stick to it. Otherwise, it’s just another dream that will fizzle out.

Follow this #1 tip – do the important thing first

Getting something important done is easy, as long as you do the important thing first. There are always urgent things that require your time and attention. And because they’re urgent, they usually get done. But the really important things tend to get put on the backburner. That includes taking time for you, exercising, and writing.

But imagine what your life would be like if you did the important things first? What if you sat down to write before you went to work? What if you got your 500 words in before you went grocery shopping? If you feel overwhelmed with your to-do list, then you should still just do the important things first. The urgent things will get done. And the non-important things don’t need to get done.

Are you writing a novel this year? What kinds of writing strategies work for you to get black on white? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.

Anita Eversen is the author of The Busy Woman’s Guide to Writing a Novel and co-founder of novel writing software Novelize. Both the book and Novelize focus on helping writers get their novel written. You can find Anita at AnitaEversen.com.

Amanda Gorman Named National Youth Poet Laureate

Last night in New York City, at a historic ceremony at Gracie Mansion, nineteen-year-old Amanda Gorman of Los Angeles was named the first national youth poet laureate. The unprecedented title, to be awarded annually, honors a teen poet who demonstrates not only extraordinary literary talent but also a proven record of community engagement and youth leadership.

For Gorman, poetry and civic outreach aren’t separate interests. The Harvard University freshman knows firsthand that creative writing can build confidence and a sense of community among young people whose voices are often underrepresented in mainstream dialogue. In 2016 she founded One Pen One Page, a nonprofit organization that provides an “online platform and creative writing programs for student storytellers to change the world.” She continues to serve as the organization’s executive director.

Gorman’s own writing often addresses the intersections of race, feminism, and adolescence, as well as the changing landscape of her native Los Angeles. For both her poetry and her advocacy, Gorman has been recognized by Forbes, the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards, the YoungArts Foundation, and the OZY Genius Awards. She has also performed on The Today Show, ABC Family, and Nickelodeon News, and helped introduce Hillary Clinton at the 2017 Global Leadership Awards.

“For me, being able to stand on a stage as a spoken word poet, as someone who overcame a speech impediment, as the descendent of slaves who would have been prosecuted for reading and writing, I think it really symbolizes how, by pursuing a passion and never giving up, you can go as far as your wildest dreams,” said Gorman at the ceremony on Wednesday evening. “This represents such a significant moment because never in my opinion have the arts been more important than now.”

Amanda Gorman, national youth poet laureate.
 

The event represented the culmination of years of work by arts organizations across the country. In 2009 literary arts nonprofit Urban Word NYC, in partnership with the New York City Campaign Finance Board and Mayor’s Office, began bestowing the annual title of New York City youth poet laureate on one visionary poet between the ages of fourteen and nineteen. Michael Cirelli, executive director of Urban Word NYC, says the program was founded on a belief that “young poets deserve to be in spaces of power, privilege, and governance, and to have their voices front and center of the sociopolitical dialogue happening in our city.”

Since the inception of New York’s youth poet laureate program, arts and literacy organizations in over thirty-five cities have followed suit, launching their own youth laureateship positions. As it spread nationally, the program garnered support from the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Society of America, and PEN Center USA, among other major poetry organizations. Finally, in 2016, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities partnered with Urban Word to bring the program to the national level.

Last July a jury of prominent poets, including U.S. poet laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, Brooklyn poet laureate Tina Chang, and Academy of American Poets executive director Jen Benka, narrowed the pool of local laureates down to five national finalists. Poets were evaluated on the caliber and subject matter of their poems, as well as their commitment to serving their communities through volunteer and advocacy work, and each finalist was selected to represent a geographic region of the country (Northeast, Southeast, South, Midwest, and West). Along with Gorman, Hajjar Baban of Detroit, Nkosi Nkululeko of New York City, Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay of Nashville, and Andrew White of Houston were named the first annual regional laureates and finalists for the inaugural national youth poet laureateship.

Each finalist received a book deal with independent press Penmanship Books, which published Gorman’s first poetry collection, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough, in 2015. Over the past year, the finalists have also had the opportunity to perform for large audiences at renowned venues, including the Poetry Foundation, the Kennedy Center, and the White House. As the national youth poet laureate, Gorman will continue to give readings and participate in events across the country throughout her yearlong term.

“The role of poetry, especially in marginalized communities, is to provide a voice to those who are traditionally silenced,” says Cirelli, “and the best way to effect social change is to provide platforms for youth to tell their stories. We hope to leverage our work to allow these diverse stories to be told in spaces that have historically omitted youth voices, and to energize and engage the issues that they are most passionate about.”

The ceremony at Gracie Mansion featured performances by three of the finalists, as well as a roster of current and former New York City youth poets laureate. The performers were introduced by a group of acclaimed poets, including American Book Prize winner Kimiko Hahn and four-time National Poetry Slam champion Patricia Smith. Nkululeko recited a poem about his hair, a metaphor through which he discussed his relationship with his mother and collective African American history. Baban, who was named runner-up for the national title, recited a sestina on language, family, and her Muslim name. Finally, Gorman delivered a poem about how her speech impediment led her to discover writing.

“I am so grateful to be part of this cohort of young creatives who are taking up their pens to have a voice for what is right and what is just,” Gorman said in her acceptance speech. “I don’t just want to write—I want to do right as well.”

 

Maggie Millner is Poets & Writers Magazine’s Diana and Simon Raab Editorial Fellow.  
 

Maggie Millner

Andrew McNabb

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Andrew McNabb

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