For Alexandra Huỳnh, life these days is anything but ordinary. The 19-year-old poet and California native began her college career in the fall, when the world was deep into the second year of the pandemic. While attending English and engineering classes at Stanford University, she’s been balancing her duties as the national youth poet laureate, a position famously first held by Amanda Gorman, whose recitation at the inauguration a year ago captured the nation.
Huỳnh is the fifth person to hold the national youth poet laureate title. The position, which is sponsored by Urban Word NYC, celebrates young poets across the United States for their artistic excellence and commitment to civic engagement and social justice. Working with local literary and arts organizations across the country, the program identifies promising young poets eager to effect change in their communities. The program celebrates youth poet laureates at the city level, and then each spring a panel of poets and writers selects one national laureate from the pool.
We caught up with Huỳnh while she was back home in Sacramento for winter break. She spoke about finding her voice, widening the platform of the youth poet laureate and finding hope in 2022. She also shared one of her poems with us, which you can read below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: These are wild times and an interesting time to be in school. Tell me what you’re up to now.
A: I’m a freshman in college. I’ve finished my first quarter at Stanford. I have not officially declared a major yet, and I’m still bouncing around. Last quarter, I took some science and writing classes. Going into Stanford, I was really interested in becoming an engineer. But as time has passed, I’ve realized that I only have four years in my undergrad to study something that really, really interests me, so I’m starting to open up my mind to studying English or perhaps history, but it’s all very much up in the air right now.