Congratulations to Houston’s new Youth Poet Laureate, Fareena Arefeen. Fareena, a student at the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) and a first-generation American, was chosen amongst dozens of talented Houston teens to share her insightful voice and creative spirit with the City of Houston.
Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate is an initiative led by WITS, the City of Houston, and the Houston Public Library. The position was designed to help young teens foster creative growth in our diverse and unique city.
Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate in the News
- Writers-In-Schools gala raises nearly $200,000 | Houston Chronicle
- High School Junior Is Houston’s New Poet Laureate | Houston Public Media
- HSPVA junior named city’s second Youth Poet Laureate | HISD Blog
- Houston’s new Youth Poet Laureate is a writer with a mission | Houston Chronicle
- Student Honored Youth Poet Laureate | ABC 13
- “Hurricane Season”: a poem for our city | Houston Chronicle
- Getting to Know Houston’s New Youth Poet Laureate | Houston Public Media
- Record-breaking Writers in the Schools gala emphasizes the power of poetry | CultureMap
Fareena’s Inaugural Speech | November 10, 2016
Today, I stand before you as a poet, an artist, and a 16-year-old first generation immigrant to Houston.
When I think about who first inspired and encouraged me to be a writer, I realize it is my mom. My mom comes from Bangladesh. She is a single mother who works in a gas station, supporting my sister and me. She strongly believes that all Bengali people are poets at heart, so it’s no surprise to her that I am here tonight for this special evening with all of you. Thank you for believing in me, Mom.
When I was growing up, I lived in small apartments, and no one around us put time into poetry. I used to be afraid of writing—it didn’t seem to fit into the community of people where I lived. I grew up feeling uncomfortable, too American for the Bengali people and too brown for the kids I went to school with. I was always struggling to find my place, to feel a sense of community.
Slowly, though, I came to understand that poetry is more open and available than I gave it credit for. Poetry wasn’t just the esoteric words in my school textbooks; it was alive and real and right there in the apartment building where I lived, on the sidewalks where I walked, and at the gas station where my mom worked. Poetry didn’t just belong to people who didn’t look or sound like me; it belonged to me. What a relief it was for me to finally realize that I did not have to shy away from my background or my identity. I could write about being a young Bengali woman and part of my story would resonate with part of someone else’s story and on and on.
When I write now, I feel a sense of expansiveness, like I’m no longer boxed in. For me, writing is all about the connection I feel with other people. I love the way that words bridge people from all different walks of life. It provides a place where all of us—you and me—can meet and learn and grow.
Sometimes poetry is about providing comfort and stability to people who need it. I want to tell other immigrants, like me, that their stories matter. I want to tell LGBTQ youth that their stories matter. I want to tell children living in poverty that their stories matter. But, poetry has another job too. It must challenge and push people in power toward change and new perspectives. As the new Youth Poet Laureate, I hope my words will be a springboard for action, including additional funding of the arts for underrepresented communities.
To close, I’d like to tell you about my first ever high school poetry workshop. I was extremely nervous. How would my words be heard? My teacher was such an intellectual, and I was completely intimidated. Did I belong here? Was I really a poet? I will never forget her words. After reading my poem, she responded simply, “This is so musical.” That line has stayed with me, and I strive every day to make music with the poetry I write.
I am honored to be here tonight and to accept the title of the next Youth Poet Laureate of Houston, Texas. I plan to spread the music of poetry throughout our great city. I hope you will join me.