Agronomist Margarita Engle is the first Cuban-American to be named Young People's Poet Laureate
Margarita Engle is a lot of things: A Cuban-American. An agronomist. A memoirist. A verse-novelist. A poet. And as of last week, America’s new Young People’s Poet Laureate. The Poetry Foundation announced that she will officially accept the $25,000 laureate position on June 12th at a ceremony in Chicago. She will take over the position from Jacqueline Woodson, whose two-year appointment began in 2015.
Engle has written many award-winning books for adults, young adults, and — including 2008 Newberry Honor recipient The Surrender Tree: Poems of Cuba’s Struggle for Freedom. She often writes about Cuban history, culture, and experience, and she describes her connection to Cuba on her website.
Prior to becoming a full-time writer, Engle, who has a doctorate in biology, was a professor of agronomy at California Polytechnic Institute. In an interview with the education blog Vamos a Leer earlier this year, she said that science and art are intwined for her as a writer.
“As a botanist and agronomist, it always feels natural for me to include plants and animals in my verse novels about people,” she said. “In certain books…wilderness actually feels like a character in the plot.”
Engle believes that poetry for young people is particularly important in the current political climate, which includes things like an Oklahoma congressman recently calling for all students who don’t speak English to be turned in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement as a way to save money.
In the same Vamos a Leer interview, Engle said that poetry can be a safe way for young people to express their immigrant experience.
In an interview with Publishers Weekly, she said that she wants to use her platform as Young People’s Poet Laureate to promote the idea of paz (peace).
“I want to choose the theme of peace, or paz,” she said. “It’s a bilingual theme, and maybe if I can draw in other poets it will become multilingual.”
She said she hopes to lessen intimidation surrounding poetry.
“When given a chance, so many children will not only love poetry, but also write poetry. Especially if adults don’t teach them to be afraid of it,” she said.
We look forward to seeing how she uses this new position to encourage peace, poetry, and freedom of expression among the next generation of poets and poetry readers!