Last Fall, Unique Shehee, a 15-year-old from Oxnard High School, accepted the honor of being named the first Youth Poet Laureate of Ventura County. “I want to talk to students about the importance of their voices being heard and the beautiful things you can do with poetry,” said Unique, who began writing poetry around age 11. “I just want them to know there’s this awesome way to express themselves, and tell them it’s just such a great outlet.”
Fernando Albert Salinas, California Poets in the Schools' Ventura County Area Coordinator, is a founding member of the committee that established the Ventura County Poet Laureate program. This opportunity is designed to honor young writers and leaders committed to making a civic impact through community engagement utilizing the power of their written and spoken words. "I noticed that youth were not present at poetry readings and I prompted the county to start this program," Fernando said. “We need to allow youth to be heard. When we honor them and give them this kind of office, the community is more likely to listen. Quite often as we get older … we get caught up with our lives so much we forget what’s happening in youths’ lives, and when they do speak up it’s like, how did I miss that?”
The Ventura County Youth Poet Laureate and the poets who advanced to the final round will be invited to perform at public events throughout the program year and beyond. Laureates will be asked to represent Ventura County and its youth at public and private events and be a model for other youth. They are also asked to share their experiences with the press and through blogs, videos and social media. Unique will also be offered a book deal through Spit Shine Publishing!
California has just three other youth poets laureate, and there are only 42 across the nation. Amanda Gorman, of Los Angeles, became the first national youth poet laureate in 2017.
Click here to see photos of Unique Shehee as she accepted the honor of Ventura County Youth Poet Laureate at the Museum of Ventura County.
Interested in starting a Youth Poet Laureate Program in Your County?
Urban Word manages the National Youth Poet Laureate Program. Urban word offers support and a toolkit for counties interested in starting a Youth Poet Laureate program. Fernando Albert Salinas, California Poets in the Schools' Area Coordinator for Ventura County, is also willing to field questions and offer support.
FRIENDS MAKE THINGS POSSIBLE. Lead partners for this project include: Ventura County Arts Council, California Arts Council, Diamond Realty, Rosabella’s Café and Bakery, Oxnard Friends of the Library, Urban Word, Spit Shine Publishing, the Museum of Ventura County.