Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate


Rukmini Kalamangalam, a first-generation Indian-American who attends Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston Independent School District, has been selected as Houston’s third Youth Poet Laureate. Kalamangalam’s one-year term includes a scholarship, publication in the Houston Chronicle, and mentorship from Houston’s Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Kalamangalam will also serve as Cultural Arts Advisor to the Mayor’s Youth Council.

Kalamangalam immigrated to the United States when she was six-years-old. Creative writing provided a safe space to process her experiences. As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, Kalamangalam hopes to extend similar opportunities to Houston youth. She is especially interested in breaking down divisions between communities, age groups, and writing genres.

“After a traumatic event like Hurricane Harvey, I think we would benefit, more than ever, from shared experiences,” Kalamangalam says. “Simply through collaborative artwork, there are connections that form and start to rebuild the cracks between our neighborhoods.” This year, Kalamangalam hopes to bring people together through public poetry performances in accessible spaces where different people gather, such as Hermann Park or the MetroRail.



Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate in the News  

Rukmini’s Inaugural Speech | November 2017

I can hardly believe that three years ago I barely knew what a poetry slam was. In fact, I was so unprepared for my first slam that I didn’t even know we had to have two poems! I went home that night embarrassed, ashamed and determined to try harder next time. By the time I made Houston’s youth slam poetry team that summer, I was in love.

To me, writing has always been about love. In poetry slams across our city, there is a passion and drive in the teen writer community that deserves to be celebrated.  Teens are often deemed young, naive, and unlikely to be a force for change. Through my years of performing, I know the truth is the exact opposite.

I am honored to work with WITS: From my first experience writing in a WITS classroom in middle school, to standing on this stage today, I have seen incredible growth in myself, my fellow writers, and the visibility of youth voice because of this organization.

In times like these, the intersection of art and action is more important than ever. My generation is the future, and our voices need to be at the forefront. WITS gave me the resources I needed to be here today. It brought me into contact with over 600 young poets in cities across the country, and most importantly, it was in the WITS office that I first discovered the power I had to create a tangible difference. I’d like to leave you with this poem. Thank you.


Houston is joyous

The kind that cannot be leashed

The kind that wants the clanging of bells to herald her entrance

The kind that is too big for red carpet elegance


Houston is starlet

With a spotlight smile

Refuses to let the Milky Way rival

Her skyscrapers for brilliance


Houston is faith

A Chance fan through and through

The kind of girl who doesn’t wear shoes in the grass

And goes to church for the gospel choir


Houston is brown

As the first cup of coffee in the morning because

As much as she loves the big and bold

It’s the still moments that make her whirlwind possible


Houston is parade

Is unafraid

Is bindaas

Is migration

Is 2.3 million people, 145 languages, and a world series championship


Houston is joyous and tonight,

We are right by her side.