Mahi Shah, a junior at Notre Dame High School in Salinas, was selected as the inaugural Monterey County Youth Poet Laureate. (Contributed)

MONTEREY COUNTY — Mahi Shah of Salinas, a junior at Notre Dame High School, was selected as the inaugural Monterey County Youth Poet Laureate.

Shah will serve a one-year term, participate in several engagements throughout the year and receive a $1,000 honorarium. 

Monterey County Youth Poet Laureate is a program of the Arts Council for Monterey County (Arts4MC) in partnership with Urban Word, the producer of the National Youth Poet Laureate program and movement. The program celebrates youth voices that are committed to artistic excellence, civic engagement and social impact. 

“I am so pleased that the Arts Council created this program to honor youth poets in our community,” said Jacquie Atchison, Arts4MC executive director. “Mahi is an excellent choice as our first Youth Poet Laureate. She has participated in Poetry Out Loud over the past two years, coming in first place in 2022.”

Emily Amador of Stevenson School is runner-up Youth Poet Laureate. Honorable mention was given to Ieleen Li of Salinas, a sophomore at Salinas High School; Melissa Macias of Castroville, a junior at North Monterey County High School; and Brianna Sciuto of Carmel, a sophomore at Carmel High School.

The Youth Poet Laureate position is recognized by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors with a county resolution made in honor of this role. 

In its inaugural year of the Monterey County Youth Poet Laureate, Arts4MC received an overwhelming response of 28 applicants from students across the county. Student applicants represented the communities of Carmel, Carmel Valley, Castroville, Gonzales, King City, Marina, Monterey, Pacific Grove, Pebble Beach, Salinas, Seaside and Soledad.

Monterey County Poet Laureate Daniel Summerhill served as a judge, along with fellow community members and champions for poetry — Chrissy Hernande, poet and professor; Tamara Hovhannisyan, gallery owner, published author and poet; Ernesto Lizaola, community education manager for Salinas Public Library; and Jesus Valenzuela, community engagement manager for the City of Soledad.

Applicants for the Youth Poet Laureate program submitted a resume, statement of civic engagement, statement of social justice and five original poems. These writings were then put before a panel of judges and critiqued on content, theme, voice and structure. 

Community, civic and social impact and engagement were also considered in determining the young person that will represent the communities as Youth Poet Laureate.

Join the Arts Council for Monterey County in celebrating the inaugural Youth Poet Laureate during its commencement event at the Marina Library Community Room on Saturday, April 22, at 12 p.m. There will be original poems from the finalists and the chance to meet the newly selected Youth Poet Laureate.

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