Meet Amanda Gorman's California successor as youth poet laureate: Alexandra Huynh

Meet Amanda Gorman's California successor as youth poet laureate: Alexandra Huynh

6/25/2021 9:04:00 AM

Meet Amanda Gorman's California successor as youth poet laureate: Alexandra Huynh

Alexandra Huynh of Sacramento was recently chosen to be the second national youth poet laureate. The 18-year-old is dedicated to social change.

She became the national youth poet laureate at age 16; six years later, she read her poem at Joe Biden’s and Kamala Harris’ historic swearing-in.Huynh said she was shy at the beginning of high school, but that changed when she realized she wasn’t alone. “I only discovered that Sacramento had a poetry community in my junior year,” she said. “Ever since then, I have just felt so welcome and so at home. Being a part of that community has contributed to my comfort and courage in sharing my story on a national stage.”

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Now she sees her poetry as a way of paying homage to a family, a culture and a city for the values they have infused. “Vietnamese culture has taught me that family and community are the most important things because they make the highs higher and the lows not as low,” she says. “It’s really important for me to honor the culture that I’ve been brought up in.”

Amanda Gorman reads a poem during President Biden’s inauguration.(Patrick Semansky / Associated Press)From a very young age, Huynh loved to sing. Her mother enrolled her in lessons.“I remember, at the beginning of each lesson, my teacher had this huge songbook and I had to choose what songs I wanted to sing for that day,” she said. “After a while, I remember thinking to myself, these songs are a little bit boring and I don’t know any of them, honestly, so why can’t I just write my own songs? And one day, I did.”

Huynh remembers picking up some scrap paper and writing down lyrics. It began with the impulse to something no one else could — something authentically hers.Advertisement“The driving factor behind me putting pen to paper is knowing that no one is going to be able to get inside of my head and articulate my experiences as far as I can,” she said. “And it brings me great comfort to know that I have been spoken for on my own terms.”

“It does not matter any longer where you live,” reads the title and opening line ofone of Huynh’s poems, which kicks off each stanza with a headline “from news reports on the fires in California and the floods in Vietnam.” Huynh juxtaposes flame and water, rendering both emergencies with heartbreaking imagery, linking climate disaster and colonial devastation, mourning both the drowned land of her ancestors and the smoldering state where she’s grown up.

The road to being a youth poet laureate is a long one, at least in the timespan of teenager.Theyouth poet laureate programwas launched in New York City by the literary arts organization Urban Word in 2008. In 2014, the program expanded to Los Angeles, with Gorman becoming the city’s inaugural youth poet laureate. After expanding into dozens of cities, in 2017 the organization selected a national youth poet laureate from among finalists ages 13 to 19 across four regions of the United States who were youth poet laureates in one of 41 participating cities.

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