Libraries are often faced with keeping both tweens and teens engaged once they are past middle school years. Several library systems are using spoken word poetry as a way to allow youth to be both creative and to learn at the same time. Library systems in Indianapolis, IN; Oak Park, IL; New York, NY; and Oakland, CA; are actively using spoken word poetry by allowing teens to create their own learning experiences outside of their regular school activities.
At The Indianapolis Public Library (IndyPL) through the annual Slammin' Rhymes Challenge, presented by the African American History Committee, youth from Marion County submit poetry in which the top ten poems receive prizes, perform their works at the annual Fall Fest at Central Library, and are presented with an award by the keynote speaker (Nikki Giovanni and Kwame Alexander have presented the last two years respectively). The opportunity allows youth to write based on an inspiring topic. Last year's theme was dare to dream.
As a first-year participant, 15-year-old teen Justis Sanderson didn't expect to win. "I heard about the competition, but didn't think much of it," said Sanderson. "I was pretty excited about finding out I won, but it was about more than winning. My poem had a message, and I was glad people cared about what I had to say. I would encourage other teens to be involved in order to learn that they have the power to make a change."
As part of a new artist-in-residence program that began in January 2017, Oak Park Public Library encourages students in grades 6 - 12 to participate in writing workshops and open mic spoken-word performances. Work inspired by,
developed with, and created at the library is showcased at monthly spoken-word freestyle open mic sessions titled, "More Than a Mic: Your Voice Is Your Power." Teens are expanding their use of the library because of personal relationships created through the program.
"It's not so much that teens are now using resources that they didn't know were there before," said Luis Tubens, Oak Park Public Library artist in residence. "They've always known the resources, but I think now they're feeling more comfortable because they're starting to build relationships with the faces of the library. They're not just coming here thinking, 'Oh, there's only books there'; they're coming here knowing that there's support, not only through materials, but through personnel." Miles Hodges, Public Programming, at The New York Public Library (NYPL), is a spoken word artist who incorporates the art into programming for the community, including allowing teens to perform their own original pieces during local events. "We want to contribute to the notion that literature and lit culture is not some high-brow, elitest thing," said Hodges in a 2015 YouTube video documenting NYPL's collaborative art series, For The Public. "It deserves to be free and for the public."
The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program was launched in 2011 as a partnership between the Oakland Public Library and Youth Speaks. The program celebrates the authentic voice of young people living in Oakland by encouraging poets 13-18 to showcase their talent and leadership skills. Each year, teen writers from across the city are considered for this honorable position. Once chosen, the Laureate receives an educational scholarship and embarks on a year of opportunities as an ambassador for literacy, arts and youth expression. Throughout the year, the program provides workshops, public performances, publishing and mentoring for young writers as well. Overall, this city-wide effort offers teens the ability to share their experiences with, and to build empathy for, other local youth from backgrounds different from their own.
"When you look at the applicant pool and the finalists, you see multiple styles, multiple truths and backgrounds and stories being reflected and shared," said Shanga Labossiere, 2015 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Honorable Mention. "I think that is a real testament to the diversity of Oakland."
In honor of April being National Poetry Month, across social media platforms, on April 19, 2017, at 10 AM ET, Indianapolis Library and Oak Park Public Library will be releasing original works from local teens, Justis Sanderson and The ABC Kids respectively. Videos may be found on YouTube (IndyPL and Oak Park). Also during April, spoken word organizations Youth Speaks and Young Chicago Authors, are each posting daily writing prompts for young people.
For more information, please visit indypl.org, oppl.org and oaklandlibrary.org. To write a story or interview youth about being involved in these programs impacts them, please use the contacts listed at the top right hand corner of this press release.