2018 Class of National Student Poets Announced

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Kelly Forsythe

Five Teens Selected for the Country’s Most Prestigious Youth Poetry Honor

NEW YORK, August 1, 2018
– Five teens from across the country have been chosen from among thousands of award-winning poets to serve as National Student Poets, the nation’s highest honor for youth poets presenting original work.

The National Student Poets Program is an initiative in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the nation’s primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries, and the nonprofit Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, which presents the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. To be considered for appointment as a National Student Poet, students first must receive a National Medal from the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nearly century-old program known for its recognition and celebration of the country’s most creative teens.

The distinguished Student Poets will be appointed by the IMLS Director Dr. Katherine K. Matthew, and Librarian of Congress Dr. Carla Hayden at a ceremony on Thursday, August 30, 2018 at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. Other appointment events during the National Book Festival weekend include public readings of the National Student Poets’ work and a private conversation with 22nd U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.

Throughout the year, the Poets will serve as literary ambassadors and will share their passion for poetry and literacy with their communities and at libraries and museums throughout their regions. This will be done through service projects, workshops, and public readings. In addition, each poet will receive a $5,000 academic award.

The National Student Poets Program is open to high school sophomores and juniors who submit work to, and receive a national medal from, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. This year, out of a pool of more than 23,000 works of poetry submitted to the Awards, 35 semi-finalists were invited to submit additional poetry and performance videos to distinguished jurors for final selection as National Student Poets.

Representing five geographical regions of the nation, the 2018 National Student Poets are:

  • Alexandra Contreras-Montesano, a senior at Burlington High School in Burlington, VT
  • Heather Laurel Jensen, a junior at Red Mountain High School in Mesa, AZ
  • Darius Atefat-Peckham, a senior at Interlochen Arts Academy in Interlochen, MI
  • Ariana Smith, a senior at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Las Vegas, NV
  • Daniel Blokh, a senior at Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham, AL

All student submissions in consideration for the National Student Poets Program are judged by a jury of literary luminaries and leaders in education and the arts based on exceptional creativity, dedication to craft, and promise. This year’s panel of judges included:

Jennifer Benka (poet and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets)
Cortney Lamar Charleston (Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Fellow and Cave Canem fellow)
Diana Goetsch (award-winning poet and National Endowment of the Arts Fellow)
Juan Felipe Herrera (21st US Poet Laureate)
Edward Hirsch (poet and President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation)
Al Letson (Host of State of the Re:Union and poet)
Adrian Matejka (poet, and winner of National Poetry Series and NAACP Image Award)
January Gill O’Neil (award-winning poet and Cave Canem Fellow)
Alice Quinn (Executive Director, Poetry Society of America)
Damian Woetzel (President of Juilliard, recipient of the Harvard Arts Medal)


Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, Director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services:
“IMLS is proud to support the National Student Poets Program and the work of these five talented students, who will visit local libraries, museums, and schools as poetry ambassadors throughout the year. These young writers are bringing awareness to both the many different types of literacies as well as the essential services that museums and libraries provide their communities each and every day. Each of these poets serve as a shining example of how institutions across our nation can connect with their young people through self-directed learning and offer spaces and opportunities for community expression."

Virginia McEnerney, Executive Director, Alliance for Young Artists & Writers:
“The Alliance is proud to support these five extraordinary poets — all dynamic literary leaders within their communities across the country. We are excited for the opportunity to connect them with museums and libraries, to help amplify youth voices as representatives of artistic expression, and create a larger forum for these exceptional poets to celebrate the crucial importance of writing, reading, and creating.”

Tracy K. Smith, U.S. Poet Laureate:
“The National Student Poets are representatives of language at its best: seeking discovery, forging new modes of meaning, singing the particular music of this very moment. They remind us how much poetry continues to matter, and how much we need what poetry fosters, which is care, belief, courage and empathy.”

Camila Sanmiguel, Class of 2017 National Student Poet:
“Being a National Student Poet has become so deeply rooted in my identity; it has given me a voice, transformed my rhetoric and made me an activist, and it has bled beauty, determination, and passion into all other parts of my life. I have created lasting memories of friendship, service, and intense happiness; learned from all sorts of experiences from workshops to seminars; cemented my spot in the world of literature; found my words on a national stage, and discovered that my year as a National Student Poet had given me the courage to speak up.”


The National Student Poets are selected every year from among students in grades 10-11 who submit work for and receive top honors in poetry in the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the 95-year-old scholarship and recognition program for teen artists and writers. From this pool of poetry National Medal recipients, 35 semi-finalists are identified through blind adjudication as the most gifted young poets in their regions, based on their originality, technical skills and personal voice. These students then submit additional poetry and performance videos, and their work is reviewed by a distinguished jury for the final selection of five National Student Poets, determined by additional criteria of creativity, dedication to craft and promise.


Since its inception in 2011, the National Student Poets Program has showcased the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success for audiences across the country. All 25 National Student Poets have participated in community service projects, visiting more than one hundred cities, performing at more than eighty national poetry events, and mentoring hundreds of future poets. The Poets have traveled to libraries, museums, youth centers, reservations, and hospitals; worked with military-connected youth, rural youth, special-needs children and recent immigrants. They have performed their work numerous times at Lincoln Center and the White House, have been honored six years running at Carnegie Hall, have been invited to attend and present their work at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and have attended private workshops and master classes with renowned poets, including U.S. Poets Laureates, and literary leaders.

To learn more about the impact and history of the NSPP, watch this short video and visit: http://mediaroom.scholastic.com/artandwriting.


The National Student Poets Program—a collaboration of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers—strives to inspire other young people to achieve excellence in their own creative endeavors and promote the essential role of writing and the arts in academic and personal success. The program links the National Student Poets with audiences and neighborhood resources such as museums and libraries, and other community-anchor institutions and builds upon the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers' long-standing work with educators and creative teens through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. The Poets’ appointment events are hosted in cooperation with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., and held in conjunction with the National Book Festival. More information on the NSPP can be found at www.artandwriting.org/NSPP.

The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's libraries and museums. We advance, support, and empower America’s museums, libraries, and related organizations through grantmaking, research, and policy development. Our vision is a nation where museums and libraries work together to transform the lives of individuals and communities. To learn more, visit www.imls.gov and follow IMLS on Facebook and Twitter.

The Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, a nonprofit organization, identifies teenagers with exceptional artistic and literary talent and brings their remarkable work to a national audience through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Founded in 1923, the Awards program is the longest-running, most prestigious initiative of its kind, having fostered the creativity and development of millions of young people through opportunities for recognition, exhibition, publication, and scholarships. During the past six years alone, students have submitted well over a million works of art and writing, and the program has provided more than $30 million in scholarships and awards for top participants. To learn more, visit www.artandwriting.org.

The Library of Congress is the world’s largest library, offering access to the creative record of the United States—and extensive materials from around the world—both on-site and online. It is the main research arm of the U.S. Congress and the home of the U.S. Copyright Office. Explore collections, reference services, and other programs, or plan a visit at loc.gov; access the official site for U.S. federal legislative information at congress.gov; and register creative works of authorship at copyright.gov.