When E. Stanley Richardson was named Alachua County’s Poet Laureate in 2020, he said he told the Alachua County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) and the Arts Council that he wanted to launch a youth laureate program.
“I was an athlete growing up but not an artist,” Richardson said about playing football for and graduating from Santa Fe High School in Alachua.
He said he wished there was a YPL program available to him at school to encourage his passion for poetry.
“Poetry was something I did for myself,” he said. “I’ve been writing poetry since middle school because it was the most natural way for me to express myself. Everything I tried to write would turn into a poem.”
Richardson performs his poetry on stages and at community events in Alachua County and beyond.
His goal is to turn a spotlight onto local youth who share a passion for poetry by launching a search for a Youth Poet Laureate North Central Florida/Alachua County.
“The goal is to have the program accessible to as many teens as possible,” Richardson said, naming the counties he wants to include in the search for two teen poets ages 13 to 19.
The regional contest will include Alachua, Marion, Putnam, Clay, Baker, Columbia, Union, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, Dixie, Lafayette, Suwannee, Hamilton, Madison, and Taylor counties.
Richardson is putting the call out for applicants which will start officially in December and last through March 2022. The application process will replicate the National Youth Poet Laureate (YPL) program of Urban Word.
The National YPL joins efforts with local poet laureate programs across the country to, “Identify and celebrate exceptional youth poets who use their voice to inspire change,” according to the mission on its website.
Richardson founded one such local program known as ARTSPEAKS in 2012.
The criteria for applicants will emphasize academic performance, a commitment to community service and poetry skills.
A panel of judges will vote on the top five candidates who will attend a commencement ceremony where they will name the very first Alachua County and North Central Florida Youth Poet Laureates.
Richardson said he is looking for community and corporate partners to join the Alachua County Arts Council and Alachua County Public Schools to help sponsor the event.
One youth will reside in and represent Alachua County and the second youth chosen will be named the regional winner.
“We would like to have scholarships and monetary prizes attached to this,” Richard said, adding that he is reaching out to University Press to see if they would consider publishing an anthology of the youth poetry.
The laureates will become ambassadors for poetry and highlight poetry in schools and in the community.
“They will be promoting, writing, and sharing poetry at local official county events,” Richardson said.
And once named, the laureates will qualify to take part in the regional and national YPL contests.
Applicants will need to upload three sample poems, a CV, and one poem that is on video, Richardson said.