Northampton seeks its first youth poet laureate

  • Northampton City Hall FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 4/19/2021 9:48:30 AM

NORTHAMPTON – Over the last 20 years, some of the most notable poets in the Valley — Martín Espada, Lesléa Newman, Richard Michelson, the late Jack Gilbert — have served as poet laureates in Northampton.

Now the city wants to add something new to the mix: a youth poet laureate.

The Northampton Arts Council is opening a search for a middle or high-school student for a one-year term as the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate of Northampton. The deadline to nominate someone or to apply for the postion is June 15.

The council says applicants or nominees must live in Northampton, Florence, or Leeds and attend school in those communities (or be homeschooled there). They also must also be entering 7th-12th grade as of September 2021 — and above all “have a deep love of poetry and a willingness to be an advocate for poetry.”

Karen Skolfield, Northampton’s current poet laureate, points to the excitement that Amanda Gorman, the national Youth Poet Laureate, strirred with her reading at the inauguration of President Joe Biden in January as a prime example of what young poets can accomplish, both in generating interest in the art form and making the case for poetry as an integral part of the nation’s culture.

“There’s no greater voice for the power and popularity of poetry among young people than when a young person is the speaker,” Skofield said in a statement. “Youth poet laureates bring energy, enthusiasm, and joy; they make poetry real and meaningful to a much younger age group.”

Brian Foote, executive director of the Northampton Arts Council, added that appointing a youth poet laureate in the city is a natural extension of the work the council has done “to raise the visibility and accessibility of the arts and writing communities.”

According to the Arts Council, Northampton will be the third city in the state, along with Worcester and Boston, to have a youth poet laureate. Nationwide, the council says, young laureates have been appointed or are being considered in cities such as Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Nashville, New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle and others.

The inaugural appointee will receive a $500 stipend and mentoring by Northampton’s poet laureate; the poet will also have the option of publishing a limited-edition chapbook of original work.

Duties for the one-year term, which begins Aug. 1, will include promoting poetry in the community and in the school the student attends; designing a community- or school-based poetry project; and participating in at least two community poetry readings or performances.

To apply for the post or to nominate someone for it, visit and click on Youth Poet Laureate.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

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