A Morgan State University junior has taken flight in her role as Baltimore’s Youth Poet Laureate.
English major Hannah Sawyerr, a North Brunswick, N.J. native, was selected in March; and said she was shocked and excited when she found out that she would be, the 2016 Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate. With her selection came a book tour to the Enoch Pratt libraries and a book deal.
After starting school at Morgan State University, poetry got her involved with the Baltimore community.
“The way I got involved in Baltimore would be through poetry,” said Sawyerr. “When I first came to Morgan, one of the first things I did was try out for the Baltimore City Youth Poetry team. It was through that, that I learned how to use my voice to speak about issues that I care about, issues that affect me and the people around me.”
Sawyerr’s book, “For Girls Growing Into Their Hips,” is a collection of poems about growing into the woman that she is becoming. It is set to be finalized in November and released in February by Penmanship Books. Her book is based off of a poem of the same name that she wrote her senior year of high school.
“I’m so excited but so scared,” she said. “I told myself, when I was 17, that my first collection of poems would be for girls growing into their hips and I would write it for girls, specifically women of color, like myself. I wanted it to be the book that I always needed. I want my book to feel like a hug; I want it to be comforting, I want it to be something that people can relate to, I want it to be something that people read and they’re like ‘I feel that.’”
With great pride, Sawyer hopes to express herself and be transparent to have people relate to her book.
“There’s no one in this world that can say that they’ll read this book and know everything about me that’s in it; there’s going to be some part of myself that no one has seen, even the people close to me,” said Sawyerr. “I just want to be transparent through this book in order to have someone relate to it. You can’t have someone relate to you if you’re not transparent so that’s my number one goal for this book.”
Sawyerr also worked with an organization called FORCE that combines art and activism to end rape culture. FORCE is currently working on a monument quilt, which is a blanket sewn together of stories of survivors that is going to cover the Washington monument.
“Upsetting rape culture is combatting the stigma that follows victims of rape and sexual assault,” said Sawyerr. “I’ve also used my story in being a survivor of sexual assault to speak at numerous venues as well as workshops.”
In her book, Sawyerr includes poems about her experience with sexual assault.
Sawyerr also had the opportunity to testify in Annapolis for House Bill 1142, that protects survivors of sexual assault on college campuses and make college campuses safer for victims of sexual assault.
Last year, she was featured at the finals of Louder Than a Bomb, a high school poetry festival, with Crystal Valentine, 2015 New York Youth Poet Laureate, and spoke at the Girls to Women conference.
One of the most memorable parts of her term as Baltimore Youth Poet Laureate was when she spoke at the Heal a Woman To Heal a Nation conference because while she was doing a poem of being a sexual assault survivor a woman went to her in tears and handed her a rose in the middle of her set and she almost couldn’t finish.
For Sawyerr, this is all just a dream come true.
“I’ve always wanted to be a youth poet laureate,” said Sawyerr. “The very first youth poet laureate I’ve known was Zora Howard, New York City. When I heard that she was a youth poet laureate, I was like ‘oh my goodness, I have to be a youth poet laureate.’”
Some of Sawyerr’s inspiration streams from her admiration for Maya Angelou.
“I get a lot of inspiration from Maya Angelou,” said Sawyerr. “Maya Angelou is my hero. I think she is one of the greatest to ever do it. Just because she’s so genuine, she’s such an authentic person. I don’t think it gets much better that Angelou.”
Even after her term is up, Sawyerr still plans to use her poetry to engage with the community.
“I want to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Sawyerr. “Once my term is over, that doesn’t mean the work that I’m doing is over.”
Sawyerr also has hopes of releasing a second book in the future.