- The 16-year-old New Yorker has a romance with poetry and a passion for social justice.
As 22-year-old Los Angeles-born writer and performer and America’s youth poet laureate, Amanda Gorman, stunned all those who witnessed the historical inauguration of 46th President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., with her soul stirring rendition of her poem “The Hill We Climb,” another Indian American youth poet laureate bear mention.
Last year, 16-year-old New Yorker Meera Dasgupta, was named the 2020 National Youth Poet Laureate. Dasgupta, who attends Stuyvesant High School and has been New York City’s youth poet laureate, was selected as the country’s Youth Poet Laureate from a group representing more than 40 states and 50 cities.
Dasgupta has many firsts to her credit, as this honor makes her the youngest United States Youth Poet Laureate appointed in the history of the country. She is also the first U.S. Poet Laureate to have been appointed from New York (as well as the Northeastern region) and the first Asian-American youth poet laureate of the United States.
Dasgupta is a member of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program, which identifies and celebrates teen poets who use their artistic excellence to be leaders in bringing about civic engagement and social justice.
The one-year position is part of a larger program run by the nonprofit Urban Word that celebrates teen poets who display leadership, artistic excellence, and a drive for civic and social engagement. As National Youth Poet Laureate, Dasgupta will give readings—some in person, some perhaps virtually—across the United States.
Talking to The Spectator, Dasgupta says the moment that she was named the 2020 National Youth Poet Laureate was “unforgettable and thrilling.” As the announcement video played, Dasgupta admits she was nervous, but she reassured herself by saying that she had tried her best and that her efforts alone were something she could be proud, regardless of the end result. However, that didn’t keep her from feeling excitement when a banner with her picture filled the screen. “As soon as I saw the banner that named me United States Poet Laureate, I fell out of my chair. I couldn’t stop shaking and struggled to find the speech which I had saved somewhere on my computer. It felt so surreal,” she recalled.
However, along with the jubilation, came nagging feelings of self-doubt. “Of course, there is still this concept of imposter syndrome,” she told “The Spectator”. “Just knowing the talent of all the other laureates, the fact that there were 50 others from different cities in 40 states—all down to four of us from across the country—there were times when I wondered ‘why me?’”
But a positive person, Dasgupta added that the trick to not being overtaken by doubt is believing in yourself and your own worth. “As long as you let the art guide you and write your story, people will listen.”
As to when her romance with poetry began, Dasgupta tells “The Spectator” that it began at a very young age. “When I was in the third grade, I had just started playing the acoustic guitar, so, naturally, I would periodically grab sheet music and write song lyrics. The songs I wrote were basically short poems with music, and even though I look back at them and sometimes cringe, I know that’s where I got my start—so I’m very grateful for that,” she says adding, “In my English classes, I would handwrite 20-page stories and would create mini poetry anthologies for projects.”
However, she believes that she found her true calling for the spoken word during her experience on the Stuyvesant Speech Team. As a member of the speech team, Dasgupta gained experience interpreting and performing spoken word poems. As she found herself interpreting the words of others more than her own, she realized that her passion was to make and present something of her own. She felt that she would greatly prefer to perform her own words than someone else’s. “Nothing was more liberating to me than finally performing in front of an audience and receiving a standing ovation for something which I had created on my own,” she said.
Before she was a poet, Dasgupta was heavily involved in activism and is passionate about women’s political empowerment and climate justice. She has participated in various advocacy groups and considers those experiences to have significantly assisted her within the United States Youth Poet Laureate program. Additionally, her participation in the speech team and Young Democrats Club at Stuyvesant has been instrumental in making her comfortable with expressing political opinions through writing.
Dasgupta utilizes poetry as “the crossroads between art and activism,” in an effort to convey to audiences “topics which are often dominated by statistics.” She hopes that her poetry will resonate emotionally with audiences so that she can effectively communicate social issues. Part of her goal is uplifting marginalized communities and portraying the experiences of those around her. “I have learned that sometimes, though facts may not be enough to change people’s minds, art can,” she explained to ‘The Spectator’.
A poet first and foremost, Dasgupta talks of how poetry offers a connection to her audience that is unparalleled and simply cannot be found in any other form. “For a moment on stage, even reading personal poems, I know that the entirety of the audience is journeying through one life—a life which becomes clearer to them with every breath taken.”
And moving forward, Dasgupta intends to enter a political science major so that she may continue to pursue social justice, her main passion in recent years.
Adding another feather in her cap – Dasgupta has a book deal with Penmanship Press, which could make her a published author by the time she’s 17 (a fact that does not fail to baffle her). She also hopes to continue to perform for audiences nationwide, even if it’s through video calls during the pandemic.
In addition, Dasgupta, who is cognizant of the fact that her goals may change over time, would like to start a nonprofit organization with the mission of uplifting the voices of women of color within politics. And the reason for that is simple — she believes that she might not have been exposed to so many valuable opportunities if she had not attended a nonprofit women’s leadership summer camp years ago.
But for now, the accomplished Dasgupta is resting easy on her laurels – balancing a hectic student life and being a teenager.
Anu Ghosh immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999. Back in India she was a journalist for the Times of India in Pune for 8 years and a graduate from the Symbiosis Institute of Journalism and Communication. In the U.S., she obtained her Masters and PhD. in Communications from The OhiThe 16-year-old New Yorker has a romance with poetry and a passion for social justice.o State University. Go Buckeyes! She has been involved in education for the last 15 years, as a professor at Oglethorpe University and then Georgia State University. She currently teaches Special Education at Oak Grove Elementary. She is also a mom to two precocious girls ages 11 and 6.