Alyssa Gaines, CLD Alumna, Named 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate

Urban Word, the founding organization of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program, announced Alyssa Gaines as the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate (NYPL) at a commencement program held at The Kennedy Center May 20. Gaines was one of four NYPL finalists from across the country. The event included performances from the finalists, 2021 NYPL Alexandra Huyhn, and Imani Grace West, Prince George’s County’s 2022 Youth Poet Laureate.

Judges for the annual competition follow a rubric to guide their selection of a NYPL that exemplifies literary excellence, civic engagement, and social impact demonstrated by a poetry portfolio, a civic engagement brag sheet where finalists explain the nature and impact of their civic/community work, and 2 short essays. Urban Word elects esteemed poets, activists, leaders, and educators to judge for NYPL.

The finalists were chosen from a field of more than 65 Youth Poets Laureates from across the United States. All of the poets were judged on their artistic excellence, as well as their commitment to civic engagement, youth leadership and social impact. This year’s Regional Winners and National Finalists were Gaines, Jessica Kim of Los Angeles, CA (supported by Beyond Baroque), Isabella Ramirez of South Florida (supported by The Jason Taylor Foundation), and Elizabeth Shvarts of Staten Island, NYC (supported by Urban Word). “These poets represent the highest caliber of literary excellence while still committing their personal mission to civic engagement, community change and social impact.,” says National Youth Poet Laureate Founder, Michael Cirelli, “Their poetic work is stunning, while their vision for change inspires hope. These are the changemakers that our country needs.”

This year’s judges who determined the winner included leadership from Youth Poet Laureate Programs across the national network, including Katherine Lamb (Austin Library Foundation, Austin TX), Erin Roussel (City of Asylum, Pittsburg, PA), Stanley Richardson (Artspeaks, North Central, FL), Lauren Hall (Voices Corp., Indianapolis, IN) and award-winning poet and educator F. Douglas Brown.

Some of the judges said of Gaines’ work:

Dr. Gloria J. Ladson-Billings
“[Alyssa’s] Work is timely, integrative and weaves together multiple themes—multilingualism, research data, art. Her work makes you think, feel, & act. Her passion is palpable.”

Nikay Paredes –
“Alyssa Gaines’ expansive lines are roads pointing to the joys and cries that express a desire for a just world that young people ought to inherit and make even better.”

Cathy Linh Che
“Alyssa Gaines’ poems are fierce, wide ranging, funny, and hopeful, bearing witness to the many complexities of growing up in East Indianapolis, in a household that is many-tongued, brimming with beauty and grief. I see in Gaines’ poetry the spirit of June Jordan and Sonia Sanchez, Black women poets whose craft of the page lifts up its stunning orality.”

Anya Creightney
“Elizabeth Dickinson said the “The Truth must dazzle gradually” and she was right. A slow, earned unfurling is what makes learning possible. It’s also what convinces a reader a poem is “genuine” and by that I mean lived in—emotionally and tonally precise. Alyssa, your poems do that, unfold like uncanny origami, sometimes funny, often penetrating, and always convincing.”

Bob Holman –
“From the center of the country comes the centered, fierce poetry of Alyssa Gaines. On the one hand, she is “a hot cheeto girl on the high honor roll that sang Hamilton at recess”; on the other, a poet-entrepreneur who knows her way around activism as well as she knows how to create a sonnet.”

Alyssa Gaines is the 2022 National Youth Poet Laureate, the Midwest Regional Finalist, and the first-ever Indianapolis Youth Poet Laureate as supported by Voices Corp. Her work has been featured in Scholastic’s “Best Teen Writing,” the Indianapolis Recorder, and was published by Teach for America. A recent high school graduate, she served as a leader in her school as the President of the Black Student Union, the Poetry Club Founder and President, and the President of the nonpartisan Young Democrats Club. Her leadership also extends to work with Purdue University and the Center for Leadership Development. She also has performed in numerous theater productions and was the captain of the lacrosse team. Alyssa will be attending University of Wisconsin at Madison this Fall and is a part of the college’s First Wave Program.