Denver Youth Poet Laureate Toluwanimi Obiwole joins Aspen Words poets-in-schools team
The Aspen Times
If You Go …
What: Youth Poetry Slam, presented by Aspen Words
Where: Third Street Center, Carbondale
When: Friday, Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m.
More info: www.aspenwords.org
Two years ago, Toluwanimi Obiwole was named the inaugural youth poet laureate for Denver, making her something like an official voice of young people in the city and around Colorado. This week the 22-year-old will work with students from Aspen to Glenwood Springs, helping them find their own voices as poets.
“The most amazing thing is how confident the students already are in themselves, but how much more self-confident they get,” she said recently from the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, where she is a senior. “It’s amazing for them to discover things that maybe they didn’t even know were lurking in their hearts. And also to see how encouraged they are to say, ‘Oh, my god, I wrote a poem! I’m a poet!’”
Obiwole is the newest member of a growing team of teaching poets who spend a week in Roaring Fork Valley schools annually through Aspen Words’ poetry project. She joins Myrlin Hepworth of Phoenix, Mercedez Holtry of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Logan Phillips of Tucson, Arizona. The quartet will be working with some 3,000 students in 16 middle and high schools this week, including is bilingual workshops. The student workshops and assemblies culminate in the fourth annual Youth Poetry Slam in Carbondale on Friday.
Born in Nigeria and raised in Colorado, Obiwole writes largely about identity, penning fierce and vivid self-portraits that explore what it means to be an immigrant, a Coloradan and a young black woman in America. Her role as youth poet laureate has given her a substantial platform and a public profile, performing at civic events and teaching poetry workshops for young people. But she’s continued to forge ahead as an independent artist — she’s already published two chapbooks and given a TED Talk.
Last month, she performed in Civic Center Park at the Denver Women’s March, at the center of a crowd of more than 100,000 people protesting President Donald Trump’s inauguration.
Like a lot of the students she meets, Obiwole was initially shy about sharing her work and her story. But as she found her voice and an audience grew around her in Colorado and at national poetry slams, she learned her work could be both personally and politically empowering.
Poetry, she believes, can provide a path forward for young people who are afraid during this tumultuous moment in American history or who feel anxious about the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies.
“I want people to have a sense that we can get through this, we can thrive through this,” she said. “Being not only the child of immigrants but an immigrant myself, I’ve dealt with these things all my life. Poetry has helped me work through them. Giving the students the notion that, hey, I have survived by doing art and writing as my outlet. Art itself is going to be one of the important tools that’s going to help shape this country and bring it where the youth want it to go, not just where the power structure does.”
After she graduates from college this spring, Obiwole plans to teach and devote herself to a handful of collaborative projects with photographers, artists and musicians.
“I want to get a lot more artwork out there,” she said.
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