While Carnegie Vanguard High School senior Rukmini Kalamangalam dreams of working at the United Nations one day, for now, she holds the honor of being the first Indian-American to garner Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate title. She took home the Texas city’s 2017 to 2018 title with her poem “After Harvey,” the American Bazaar noted on November 24.

The 16-year-old award-winner will serve as a cultural arts advisor to Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Youth Council for throughout the year she holds the title, according to the Houston Independent School District (HISD).

Writers in the Schools in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, the City of Houston, and the Houston Public Library created the competition and award.

Kalamangalam was recognized as the city’s youth poet laureate at the third annual Writers in the Schools Gala on November 10 that was held at The Astorian, which is a premier event venue in Houston. The gala event raised almost $200,000 for the program.

Previous award-winners attended gala when current title holder received scholarship

The award recipient was also given a scholarship at the gala, which prior winners attended, the Houston Chronicle relayed. The previous youth award-winners are 21-year-old Andrew White, who graduated Houston’s High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) and who attends New York University, as well as 17-year-old Fareena Arefeen, who currently attends HSPVA.

Kalamangalam also received publication in the Houston Chronicle for her poem “After Harvey,” as well as a mentorship from Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton, Houston’s Poet Laureate, according to the American Bazaar. She wants to create a place “where young poets and other artists” can not only collaborate but also share experiences, News India Times reported.

Youth poet has big dreams for students and poetry in public spaces

She has big dreams but, as her winning title indicates, she also doesn’t shy from a challenge. The competition, which has been described in news reports as “tough,” entailed submitting a collection of poems and awaiting judges to choose from numerous applicants.

When the selection of potential winners was narrowed to five, each remaining contender vying for the award was “interviewed by a panel of judges,” the Times noted.

Kalamangalam explained that she also aspires to launch a column in a Houston-area publication. It is not solely so that she may express herself but to avail space so that other students can also publish poems. She is all about the arts and, much to her credit, she hopes to effect poetry readings in public spaces where people gravitate, according to the Times.

Poet’s focus on feminism, who she is as an Indian-American

She stated that the theme of her writing tends to focus on feminism, such as what it means to be a feminist, South Asian woman, who she is as an Indian-American,” and how she “fits into” various societies, the Chronicle reported.

Slam poetry, according to Kalamangalam, is the “intersection of art and action.” She told the Chronicle that she loves slam poetry. At events she has attended, the young poet has observed people talking issues concerning injustice and ways people desire for society to advance. She conveyed that how audiences react to something “can spark change and spark progress.”

Robin Readler, the director of Writers in the Schools, stated that Kalamangalam winning poem, “After Harvey,” exemplifies how students apply writing as a means of coping following the trauma of a natural disaster. She further stated that it takes years to heal from trauma, the Chronicle wrote. “It’s going to take a while, and writing is a way to get from here to there.”