Knoxville is looking for its first youth poet laureate

Applications are open in the search for Knoxville’s first youth poet laureate, who will lead the charge in taking poetry to the city’s under-19 residents.

Knoxville students ages 13-19 are invited to apply. Applications must include three original works – poems, raps or performances – and one must address the theme of human relations, diversity and social change.

Applications are due by 12:59 a.m. Saturday to the online submission form at

The new program stems from a grant through the Jonathan Taylor Memorial Fund, given to the Knoxville Writers’ Guild upon his passing. Poet and Oak Ridge teacher Rhea Carmon serves on the board of the Knoxville Writers’ Guild and said the board chose to use those funds to pay for the city’s participation in the National Youth Poet Laureate program.

The new local program “aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, diversity and tolerance, and youth voice” because teens are an excellent reminder of a community’s shared values.

Carmon, who is Knoxville’s poet laureate, said establishing the youth equivalent of her role was a goal she had for before her tenure ends in 2023.

“This means the world to me as poet laureate of Knoxville,” Carmon said.

She expects that the youth poet laureate will perform at public events just as she does. During their one-year tenure, the youth poet laureate will be invited to New York for the national youth poet laureate convention.

“The way that I envision it is they will be participating in writing workshops with other youth poet laureates from all over the country, as well as going into schools when invited to do performances and workshops with students in the schools,” Carmon said.

If Knoxville’s representative qualifies for the national finals, they will have a chance at becoming the national youth poet laureate – a position first held in 2017 by Amanda Gorman, who spoke at President Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Participants in the national program are eligible for scholarships and publishing opportunities, along with conventions and mentorship. According to Carmon, Nashville already has a youth poet laureate and Memphis is also beginning a youth program. Knoxville’s program is a joint partnership between Knoxville Writers’ Guild, the Office of the Mayor and the Knoxville Arts & Culture Alliance.

“I have always been inspired and motivated by young people and their ability to write so candidly and to capture the emotions of our country and our communities through what they write,” Carmon said. “And so I felt as though Knoxville needed a young person, just like an older person, as poet laureate to use the word to bring about community and connection throughout the city.”

Writers' guild members will review the submissions and, along with local poets, judge the performance-based semifinal and final rounds.

Semifinals will be held on March 12. For the finals, the top three applicants will perform at Knoxville’s National Poetry Month celebration in April in a “poetry slam-style event,” Carmon said.

This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Knoxville is looking for its first youth poet laureate