Philadelphia names its newest Youth Poet Laureate

 Husnaa Hashim is Philadelphia's new youth poet laureate. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

Husnaa Hashim is Philadelphia's new youth poet laureate. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

The City of Philadelphia will officially announce its new Youth Poet Laureate but also announce that the Poet Laureate program will no longer be administered in City Hall.

The program has shifted from the city’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy, to the Free Library of Philadelphia.

First things first: the new Youth Poet Laureate will be Husnaa Hashim, a student at Mastery Shoemaker charter school, who is spending her senior year taking advanced classes at the Community College of Philadelphia.

The selection committee chose her because of the strength of her poetry and her unique voice: her grandmother was a Black Panther, her mother grew up in Iran. Hashim is Muslim, wears a Hijab, speaks Farsi, and is active in Philadelphia’s performance poetry slams.

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“She was a finalist last year. The committee has always been moved by her work,” said committee chair Beth Feldman Brandt. “Her writing is strong, and brings a point of view of a Muslim woman, out in the world, to her writing. It’s an important voice to have out in the world right now.”

Much of her work is about the elements that make her identity, including the challenges of embodying them all:

The longer I allow the sadness to sink inThe more I lose myselfThe more I become itThe problem is that I never thought I would have to stay in this body for an entire lifetimeI do not want to waste this lifetime

“I want for black, Muslim girls in Philadelphia to say, ‘There’s a Hijabi girl doing that, I can do that too,'” said Hashim. “And not be hesitant to reach for opportunities.”

The Youth Poet Laureate is one-year position, lasting the school year. The adult Poet Laureate is a two-year position. Yolanda Wisher, the current poet laureate, will hold that title until the end of this year.

The Free Library has taken over the Poet Laureate program. In the coming weeks, a selection committee will begin reviewing applications for the next Laureate.

Because the Library has a physical presence in neighborhoods all over the city, it can more effectively use poetry as a tool for public dialogue, says Andrew Nurkin, the director of civic engagement, a newly created position at the Free Library.

“I’d like to see that grow, for people widely to see that Philadelphia is a place committed to poetry as a civic art,” said Nurkin. “Also, I’d like to see the poet laureate position be part of a growing suite of programs that promote an appreciation of poetry at the Free Library.

The selection of the city’s Poet Laureate is an application process, not a nomination process, and the Library will soon be open to accepting applications. In addition to demonstrating a commitment to the art of poetry, the Laureate is expected to develop public programming around poetry.

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