Arts & Life

Incoming frosh named 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate

Aug. 15, 2021, 5:33 p.m.

Alexandra Huynh ’25 wrote her first poem when she was seven years old. She sat intently at the desk in her room, pencil in hand, as she let words flow from her mind to the paper in front of her.

Huynh’s poem took the form of a love song, modeled after the pop music she often heard on the radio. Her voice instructor had given her countless options of songs to practice, but none of them felt as though they were written for her. So, she decided to take matters into her own hands.

Huynh continued composing lyrics for years; her passion for writing verses grew by the day. In her junior year of high school, she discovered the world of spoken-word poetry. After taking part in a number of slam poetry competitions, she ended up serving as her hometown of Sacramento’s Youth Poet Laureate.

With a pencil, paper and story to tell, Huynh was eventually selected as the 2021 National Youth Poet Laureate. The distinction is awarded each year to one young poet who is dedicated to social justice and community engagement; past recipients include Amanda Gorman, who famously read her poetry at President Joe Biden’s inauguration. 

Huynh was one of four regional winners to perform at the National Youth Poet Laureate Commencement, where she was then chosen as the final winner in April. The title gave her the opportunity to speak at various events and garner national attention for her initiatives.

Huynh first performed her poetry in February 2019. When Huynh competed at a slam poetry competition held at her high school, despite having had no prior experience, she was a natural, according to history teacher Aaron Brown. She approached the microphone with a quiet confidence and let her words ring true. Her poem described how students are often reduced to numbers, such as statistics and ID numbers — and her poem stunned the crowd.

“I honestly was a little bit nervous for her. I had never seen her before, and I didn’t know what she had to offer,” Brown, who organized the competition at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento, said. “Needless to say, she came out and did her first poem, and it blew everybody’s mind.”

Brown soon became a mentor to Huynh, reviewing her work and guiding her through future competitions. But he takes no credit for her success, attributing her achievements solely to pure talent.

From her first spoken-word performance, poetry became Huynh’s favorite avenue for artistic expression. She said poetry gives her a sense of freedom by not binding her to the traditional rules of language. When she cannot find the right words to say, Huynh creates ambiance through sounds or imagery.

“It’s the imperfection of poetry that allows us to really be human and to create a system of expressing ourselves that doesn’t necessarily exist yet,” she said.

Huynh’s poetry is dynamic and tackles subject matters ranging from the racial disparities seen in nail salons in “The Nail Shop” to a peaceful acceptance of chaos in “Love Poem for the End of the World.”

In her winning National Youth Poet Laureate poem, “It Does Not Matter Any Longer Where You Live,” she describes the flooding streets of Vietnam and the raging fires of California.

Huynh not only tells of these disasters’ environmental impacts, but also of their effects on people. She portrays such details from a human perspective to bring awareness to climate change and how it is ingrained in every facet of our lives.

While her poetry is laden with bold, evocative language, Huynh grew up shy — yet through her poetic voice, she found the courage to speak up for what she believes in.

“Before, her focus was mainly on academic endeavors, and I think poetry has been a great creative outlet for her and has helped her break out of her shell,” Brianna Huynh, Alexandra’s twin sister, said.

Through the stories that she tells, Huynh hopes to bring more awareness to various social issues — one being how people view Asian American identity: she recognizes the stereotypes brought upon Asian Americans and wants to fight them.

“I’m so proud to be Vietnamese American. At the same time, I realize that Asian Americans have been reduced to a sort of monolith in society,” she said. “Using my platform, I want to break that apart and encourage people to look for details and understand that there are contradictory truths that can kind of exist.”

“There’s no one way to codify the Asian American experience,” she added. 

Huynh is also passionate about world hunger and often volunteers with The Farmlink Project to deliver food to the needy. But of all the topics she writes about, she said she feels most strongly about environmental justice.

“Climate justice is the most pressing issue that our generation has had to inherit. Poetry is a way to impart a human light on this topic,” Huynh said. “It can be easy to get lost in the numbers and, at some point, not understand what climate change means.”

Despite her achievements in poetry, Huynh plans on studying engineering at Stanford, saying it will help her become a more well-rounded activist. She said she believes drawing upon different fields will allow her to put her words into action.

“Engineering is going to provide me with a really robust toolkit to create the world that I want to see, literally,” Huynh said. “Poetry is an avenue to explore that world in my mind and to speak it into existence.”

Arjun Shah is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.Maya Wong is a high schooler writing as part of The Daily’s Summer Journalism Workshop. Contact them at workshop 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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