Isabel Hallock ’17 was recently named one of five finalists for the 2016 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate competition, and has an opportunity to win a $5,000 educational scholarship and a chance to represent her city as an ambassador for literacy, arts and youth expression.
The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program of Youth Speaks and the Oakland Public Library, in collaboration with more than a dozen community partners and funded with the generous support of The Friends of the Oakland Public Library and the Youth Speaks Youth Poet Laureate Fund.
The annual competition is open to all Oakland-based poets, ages 13-18. All applicants are required to submit an artist statement and three original poems that are judged on content, craft and voice.
Each of the finalists will be additionally judged on performance and leadership (based on a letter of support from an adult sponsor, the artist statement, and awards and community service), as well as an in-person reading and interview before a panel of judges that will take place on June 18 at Oakstop, a local event space and art gallery. The 2016 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate will be announced in July.
Isabel said she was overwhelmed when she learned she was named a finalist. “I cried,” she said. “The other finalists are absolutely amazing writers. I’m honored to be on the same stage as them.”
Isabel was encouraged to apply for the competition by English teacher Ronny Smith, who was impressed by her submission for the “Facing History” scholarship contest, in which she was one of 27 honorable mentions among 4,000 applicants.
“Isabel wrote a wonderful essay establishing the relevance of To Kill A Mockingbird to her own personal identity growing up in Oakland,” Smith said.
Isabel says she likes writing about community and activism, and her three submissions to the Youth Poet Laureate competition – This Piece, GeNotrification and Thestreets – reflect those themes.
She hopes her poetry – which she writes in spoken word form – inspires others to speak out. She concludes This Piece, with the words:
I write to speak.
And now, I speak.
Now, it’s your turn to speak.
Give me some new knowledge so I can complete this piece.
“It’s not ever just one person’s obligation to say what needs to be said,” Isabel explained.
English teacher Sarah Tunik said that Isabel’s kindness and thoughtfulness is apparent in her writing. “She cares about the people around her, and is committed to making a difference in this world. She has the kind of traits that make me hopeful about her generation – the generation which will be in charge when I am old, and need other people to lead,” Tunik said.
Isabel says she enjoys poetry so much because it provides a unique perspective. “You could write a song about something, but the message could be overtaken by the beat. You could write a play, but the theme could be overshadowed by the big stage and makeup,” she said. “Spoken word is raw and powerful.”