Elani Spencer ’27 is Roanoke’s First-Ever Youth Poet Laureate

Elani Spencer ’27 is Roanoke’s First-Ever Youth Poet Laureate

Accolades and Awards, Community Outreach, Creative Writing

February 23, 2024

Elani Spencer ’27 is Roanoke’s First-Ever Youth Poet Laureate Elani Spencer '27

A Hollins University undergraduate has been selected as Roanoke’s first Youth Poet Laureate.

Elani Spencer ’27, a first-year student who hails from Rochester, New York, earned the title through a competition sponsored by the Roanoke Arts Commission in partnership with Roanoke Public Libraries and Soul Sessions Roanoke. The initiative welcomed young poets between the ages of 13 and 19 who are civic-minded and whose quality of work is demonstrated through their performance and commitment to the community.

Meighan Sharp, visiting assistant professor of English and creative writing at Hollins and volunteer chair for the Roanoke Arts Commission, said, “Our program identifies powerful youth poets who have a history of artistic success, civic and community engagement, social impact, and youth leadership.”

The Roanoke Youth Poet Laureate program is part of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program founded by Urban Word to celebrate youth at the intersection of artistic excellence and civic engagement. Locally, the effort is funded by the Roanoke Arts Commission through the City’s Percent for Art Program and was developed through the 2022-23 Year of the Artist program with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Led by Soul Sessions’ Bryan “Harvest Blaque” Hancock and Roanoke City Public Schools’ 2022 Teacher of the Year, Adria Cintron, summer “Teen Speak” workshops built to a culminating presentation of poetry submissions at Rhythm and Rhyme, a component of the Roanoke Public Libraries Melrose Fall Festival in October 2023. 

Sharp added that the Roanoke Arts Commission is working with Spencer to provide opportunities for her to share creative thought at various city and state events. On February 20, Spencer read her poem “Perennials” at a meeting of the Roanoke City Council and received a standing ovation.

Learn more about the program and read “Perennials” at www.roanokearts.org/ypl