SACRAMENTO, Calif — A Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate has become a finalist for the National Youth Poet Laureate title, a first for the city of trees.
Alexandra Huynh is West Region Ambassador and a finalist for National Youth Poet Laureate, having found out she was one of four finalists a few days ago.
"I'm so proud and honored to represent Sacramento," Huynh said in a conversation with ABC10.
Becoming a finalist for the competition is no easy feat. There is a pretty rigorous application process including a small portfolio of work and a resume/CV. Special emphasis is put on civic engagement and giving back to the community, according to Huynh.
The task was daunting, the reward tremendous, but when she got the news that she had made it to the next round, Huynh said it was 'surreal.'
"I don't know if like, I'm qualified to represent my city, let alone the entire Western region of the United States, but I feel like, during my time in quarantine, I've definitely come into myself as a poet and been able to think about where I stand on a lot of issues," Huynh said.
When it came time to submit the application, Huynh felt ready. She said she was particularly inspired by what she feels is the landscape of poetry changing to highlight more women of color.
In fact, she said she found out about the honor just a day or two after Amanda Gorman's historic poetry reading at President Joe Biden's Inauguration.
"It's incredible," Huynh said. "I remember on the day of the Inauguration when she was performing, so many of…people who are really dear to me, texted me and they were like, you know, that could be you in a couple of years! And having her be there and holding that place and showing that young women of color have a place in our country's narrative was incredibly important to me."
Gorman, also a California-native, won her inaugural National Youth Poet Laureate title in 2017. As the buzz about Gorman's poetry performance spilled over into Huynh's own accomplishment, Huynh said she feel incredibly privileged to have a platform with which to share her own community's struggles and her personal values.
"Amanda Gorman is just…she's breaking barriers and she's continuing to inspire young writers like me to keep pushing because there is a place for us," Huynh said.
Huynh also took strength from her roots in Sacramento, reaching out to mentors through the Sacramento Area Youth Speaks organization, which runs the Sacramento Youth Poet Laureate competition. It helped her know that she was not alone, despite the personal nature of the work.
She said living in the city has also inspired her poetry, pointing to an often overlooked, but extremely unique art world that simmers below Sacramento's surface.
"I think Sacramento has such a beautifully diverse art scene that needs to be recognized more, and to be able to draw more attention to that part of our community is incredibly special to me," Huynh said.
When it comes to the National Youth Poet Laureate competition, diversity seems like the name of the game. All previous winners of the competition were women of color. All four honorees this year are also women of color.
"I feel like it's incredibly important for me…to be able to represent the Vietnamese community because there is the stereotype that Asian women are silenced in their cultures or that they're naturally very soft-spoken and they don't take up much space, but I want to start changing that narrative," Huynh said.
That goal to break out of a stereotypical space is challenged by the fact that Huynh, like most of America, has been quarantining these last few months, literally trapped in the confines of home. However, the young poet says that coronavirus has led to new expression in her poetry.
"I think having more time alone to just write out my thoughts, and not have it have to be poetry, is just a wonderful thing," Huynh said.
The quarantine also allowed Huynh to read more, which she says has helped her to absorbed new styles and stories. And obviously, from this quarantine, Huynh is reaching new levels as a National Youth Poet Laureate finalist.
Now, Huynh will submit a full portfolio of her work, an essay on why she wants to be National Youth Poet Laureate and more ahead of the final round of judging. The winner will be announced at commencement on May 22, 2021, though this date is subject to change due to COVID-19.