Nebraska’s first youth poet says she channels emotions

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — A University of Nebraska-Lincoln student is spreading her passion for poetry as Nebraska’s first ever youth poet laureate.

Jingming “Mimi” Yu, 18, first discovered she loved to write poetry in elementary school. Since then, her passion for it has grown into more than just a hobby.

The Lincoln East graduate was chosen to be the first Nebraska youth poet laureate last spring based on her creative success, civic and community engagement, social justice initiatives and leadership.

As the youth poet laureate, Yu commissions poems, displays her work and performs at public events.

Yu told the Lincoln Journal Star that she uses her personal life to drive her poetry and has found an emotional outlet through writing.

“I think creative writing in general is a thing to do when you’re feeling emotional, which is really interesting” she said. “It helps you look back on your emotions and see something beautiful that came from them.”

Yu primarily writes freestyle poems that focus on stories of parents, grandparents and other relationships she has.

Her work can be viewed at Parrish Studios in Lincoln during their First Friday events.

As a freshman sociology major on the pre-law track, it has been harder for Yu to find time to write, but the youth poet laureate program has helped keep her passion alive.

“Because I am still at an age where I am discovering what I enjoy, I think it has helped me realize what I want and what my passions are,” she said. “It’s definitely an experience that I am grateful for and I’ve learned a lot through.”

The Nebraska youth poet laureate program—run by the Nebraska Writers Collective—is part of Urban Word NYC’s National Youth Poet Laureate initiative that promotes and honors creative students.

The program was kickstarted in Nebraska in 2020 after Urban Word NYC reached out to the Nebraska Writers Collective to see if they were interested in having a youth poet laureate.

“It was heartening and hugely affirming to receive that invitation from Urban Word NYC to join their network and reassured me that Nebraska youth poets are most certainly leaving their marks in a big way,” said Gina Tranisi, program director at the Nebraska Writers Collective.

Students ages 13-19 can apply to become the next youth poet laureate between early February and late March of each year. Applicants will be considered by seven judges from across the state based on a poetry portfolio, resume and essay.

The youth poet laureate receives $3,000 total — $2,000 of which goes towards a civic engagement project they create — and will perform six public readings throughout their one-year term.

The program is meant to not only shine a spotlight on Nebraska’s creative students, but also to find young artists who are talented and active in their communities.

“We say that this program is not just about finding good poets, but about finding good poets who are also doing good in their communities,” Tranisi said. “It’s about empowering, supporting and sustaining a young leader in the state of Nebraska who can envision a better state for themselves and for others.”

Yu will pass on the role in April, when the next youth poet laureate is announced.

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