ANN ARBOR – Born and raised in Ann Arbor, 19-year-old Faye Harrison is in the running to be named the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate.
Now in its fifth year, the award will be announced Thursday evening in a virtual commencement streamed from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.
Harrison is competing against three other teens from different regions of the country for the prestigious award, which famed poet Amanda Gorman won in 2017.
Harrison, who identifies as queer, was born and raised in Ann Arbor. They currently serve as the Midwest Regional Youth Poet Laureate and were named the 2020-2021 Ann Arbor Youth Poet Laureate and 2018 Ann Arbor Youth Slam Champion.
They began writing in high school after attending workshops at the Neutral Zone in downtown Ann Arbor.
“The woman who was leading it told me, ‘You would be an amazing poet,’” said Harrison. “So, kept doing poetry and Neutral Zone connected me with Urban Word.”
Urban Word, a New York City-based youth literary arts organization, aims to give voices, tools and training to young writers, often from marginalized communities, across the nation. It launched the National Youth Poet Laureate Program in 2015.
After winning the local youth laureate recognition, Harrison said they applied last minute for the regional laureate honor.
“I sent in three poems and it was really easy to apply,” they said. “It was really affirming for me because I felt like I was in a low point in my life. I was doubting myself and my poetry and thought am I going to get farther from here in local Ann Arbor? I got this opportunity and said, ‘I should keep going. This is what I want to do.’”
Harrison said they are honored for the recognition as a finalist for this year’s award, and said they have gained friendships through the experience.
“I really never thought I was going to make it this far,” said Harrison. “I’m happy, excited and I love all the other regional youth poet laureates. They’re all great, I love that I got to meet them and that we got to be friends. Competitions are cool, but we kind of took the competition out of it in a way. We’re going to be happy for each other. I got some lifelong friends out of this, which I also think is very poetic of us.”
After attending Skyline and Pioneer high schools, Harrison dropped out for personal reasons.
When asked what inspires their poetry, Harrison said mental health is a recurring theme. Their parents were addicts prior to having them, and Harrison said they struggled with alcoholism in the past.
“For the past year I’ve really been focusing on myself and my inner healing and what does poetry look like to make that happen,” they said.
Harrison said award-winning and published writer Amanda Gorman had an impact on how they view the written word. Growing up studying poets like Edgar Alan Poe in school, Harrison did not feel connected to poetry until they got involved with the Neutral Zone.
“They’re mainly old dead white guys,” said Harrison. “Have they written some amazing poetry? Yes, but that for me that was not relatable. I think Amanda Gorman really made it accessible to a lot more people. She put it on this big screen that there’s no one way to be a poet, there’s no way to look a poet, who ever you are you can be a poet. I was really inspired by that and she’s what, 22 and making it big as a poet? I want to do that.”
While Harrison said they are still learning the craft, they hope one day to move out of Michigan and expand their horizons while doing what they love.
“I love Michigan and I think Michigan is always going to be my home,” they said. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never left and I’d want to see different things and meet new people. I’d love to be a poet and have that be my career and just writing books and creating workshops.
“I think at some point I would like to teach poetry for young people. (It’s a) very crucial point in their lives. I’d love to be a foster parent, too.”
To purchase tickets to the live ceremony at 7 p.m., click here.