The Poetry Foundation has named poet, novelist, and journalist Margarita Engle as the new Young People’s Poet Laureate, a title given biennially in recognition of outstanding achievement in poetry for children. She is the first Latino to receive the honor. Engle will succeed current laureate Jacqueline Woodson on June 12, promoting a love of poetry among young readers and advising the Poetry Foundation on projects in support of that mission. The position comes with a $25,000 prize.
Poetry Foundation president Henry Bienen said of the appointment in a release, “Margarita Engle’s passion, knowledge of nature, and curiosity about the world make her work fascinating to children and adults alike. We are delighted that Ms. Engle has accepted the position of Young People’s Poet Laureate.”
Engle’s memoir in verse, Enchanted Air, earned the 2016 Pura Belpré Author Award and was named a Walter Dean Myers Award Honoree. She is also the author of such young adult novels in verse as Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal, The Lightning Dreamer: Cuba’s Greatest Abolitionist, and The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom, for which she received a Newbery Honor and a Pura Belpré Author Award.
Over the course of her two-year tenure, Engle hopes to share her lifelong passion for poetry with children. “I’ve been writing poetry since I was a small child, and I loved poetry all through my teen years,” Engle told PW in a phone interview from her home in California. “I think it’s a safe place for children and teens to put their emotions—and they’re bursting with emotions.” She also hopes to lessen the intimidation factor that often comes with reading poetry. “When given a chance, so many children will not only love poetry, but also write poetry. Especially if adults don’t teach them to be afraid of it,” Engle said.
Engle has already begun shaping her platform as Young People’s Poet Laureate. “I want to choose the theme of peace, or paz. It’s a bilingual theme, and maybe if I can draw in other poets it will become multilingual.” She believes that poetry plays a critical role in times of political tension. “I’m imagining a time and place when children and teens of opposing factions could listen to each other’s voices and discover common ground [through literature].”
Engle’s anticipated projects include creating bilingual videos of poetry readings and other resources for use in classrooms and libraries. In 2018, she will work with the Chicago Youth Poetry Festival and the Teacher Institute in Chicago. She also hopes to partner with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.