Youth Poet Laureate Frequently Asked Questions

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Applications for the 2020 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program will be open 
January 3rd - February 3rd, 2020

Please note: These FAQs are from last year. 2020 FAQs will be posted in December 2019. We do not expect major changes and last year's information will help you prepare.

A printable version of these FAQs can be found here.  

Go straight to questions about:


When are applications open?

Friday December 7th, 2018 to Monday, February 4th, 2019.

Where is the application found?

What needs to be included in my application?

Your complete application must include the following:

  • 3 original poems showing excellence in Content, Craft and Voice and totaling no more than 10 pages typed. You will upload each poem to your online application.
    • Preliminary judging is anonymous; DO NOT include your name in the submission of your poem.
    • Please be sure your written work is spell-checked.
    • Name and contact information for an Adult Sponsor
      • If you advance to the final round, you will ask your adult sponsor to write you a letter of support. Tip: Ask someone for this well in advance!
      • Artist Statement
        • Introduce yourself; Tell us who you are and what poetry means to you. If you advance to the final round, this information will be used to build your bio. (250 words max).
        • Optional: List of any Awards, Community Service, or Activism 
        • Name and contact information for your Guardian/ Parent, unless you are 18 on February 4th, 2019.


What is the judging process?

  • The first round of judging will be anonymous and based on the Content, Craft and Voice of the three written poems, only.
  • In the second and final round of judging, candidates will be judged, additionally, on Performance and Leadership, based on the letter of support, the artist statement, and any awards and community service, as well as an in-person reading and interview before a panel of judges.
  • The 2019 Youth Poet Laureate will be announced in June 2019 at a public event with all the Finalists.

What are the exact criteria the judges will use?

Please review this document to see the exact criteria the judges will use.


Am I eligible to enter?

To enter the 2019 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate contest, you must

    • be an Oakland resident
    • be between the ages of 13 and 18 as of February 4th, 2019
    • be available to serve as Laureate for the program year,  June 2019 - June 2020:
              - be living locally through the program year
              - not be enrolled in college full-time during the program year
      (Unfortunately, this means most senior high school students are not eligible to apply).

What does it mean to be the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and what is the time commitment?

  • The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate and the poets who advance to the final round will be invited to perform at public events throughout the program year and beyond.
  • As Laureate you will be asked to represent Oakland and its youth at public and private events and be a model for other youth.
  • As Laureate, you may be asked to share your experiences with the press and through blogs, videos and social media.  
  • To be available to serve as Laureate through the program year, June 2019 – June 2020, you must be living locally and not enrolled as a full-time college student. (Unfortunately, this means as a high school senior you may be ineligible to apply.)
  • After completing your Laureate program year, you will receive an educational scholarship of $5,000, managed by ScholarMatch.

What support would I receive as the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate ?

As Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate you will be in the spotlight, but you will also receive support from Oakland Public Library staff in developing your public speaking skills and in your role representing the city. ScholarMatch also offers academic support after the completion of your Laureate year and throughout your college years.

What does Family member eligibility include, and does this apply to me?

To be fair, we cannot consider applications from family members of current judges, funders and program sponsors who have significant influence over the contest criteria or outcome. If someone in your family is actively working on this year’s contest, you are not eligible. This “conflict of interest” policy applies only to those partners who are “coordinating, influencing or judging” the 2019 competition. Call us if you have any questions.

I am a teacher or youth worker; can I nominate someone?

Yes! You can submit the application on behalf of a young person as long as you can provide complete information for the nominee(s), including 3 poems, name of an Adult Sponsor and accurate contact information. You may nominate up to 3 students. Please confirm their ability to complete the program year (June 2019- June 2020) should they advance to the final round.

When will the 2019 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate be announced?

There will be a public Oakland Youth Poet Laureate event in June 2019 where all Finalists will perform and the new Laureate will be announced.

What does it mean to be a Finalist? When will I be notified that I’m a Finalist?

Finalists are all the applicants who advance to the final round of judging.  Finalists will be notified in early March 2019, at which time you’ll be asked to provide a letter of support from an adult sponsor. In April 2019, all Finalists participate in an in-person judging round where you will be judged on Performance and Leadership. Finalists will have opportunities to meet experienced writers and appear at public events throughout the year and beyond.

Who are the judges?

There are five judges, representing a diverse group of experts from literacy, arts and educational organizations as well as local celebrity authors, artists and activists. Past judges have included U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, poets and playwrights Chinaka Hodge and Aimee Suzara, community organizer and Poetry for the People alum Maria Poblet, literary journal editor Kiala Givehand, local poet/publisher Raphael Cohen, NAACP image award nominee Arisa White, Kelsey Street Press member MG Roberts, former Oakland City Councilmember Wilson Riles, Hip Hop for Change Founder and Executive Director Kahfre Jay, current and former Oakland Youth Poet Laureates and Finalists, as well as more than a dozen local authors and community leaders.

What are the criteria the judges will use to choose the Finalists and the 2019 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate? 

Your poems will be judged anonymously on Content, Craft and Voice in the first round. The Finalists will be judged, additionally, on Leadership and Performance and participate in an in-person second and final judging round. Please review this document to see the exact criteria the judges will use.

If I win, how will I receive the $5,000 award?

Scholarship funds will be sent directly to the school or arts program of your choice. You must complete your full year as Poet Laureate to receive your award. The scholarship is managed through ScholarMatch which also offers academic support after the completion of your Laureate year and throughout your college years.

What if the Poet Laureate doesn’t complete the full program year?

We expect a pool of very talented applicants, from which we will name a Vice Laureate. This person will step into the role if the Youth Poet Laureate is unable to finish the year.

I live in San Leandro, Piedmont or Berkeley, can I apply?

You may only apply if you currently live in Oakland (though you can attend school in other towns). While we aren’t able to expand the contest to other cities right now, we welcome interested agencies from other cities to contact us with questions.

Who can I contact with questions?

Email, or call the Oakland Public Library at (510) 761-7636.

Application Help and Technical Questions

When can I apply?

Applications for the 2019 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate are open Friday December 7, 2018 to Monday, February 4, 2019 (11:59pm). 

Where do I apply? 

Please go to for the link to the online application. 

Do I have to have a Google account? 

Yes. You cannot complete the application without a Google account. You can get one here: You can get help from a computer tutor at the Oakland Public Library. In the application, please give us the email address you check most often; you do not have to use your Gmail address for your contact email. 

How do I submit my poetry?

You will submit each of your three poems in separate documents uploaded in your application. Your poems cannot contain your name or any other identifying information. The first round of judging is anonymous. 

We can only accept your poems in a .pdf file. If you do not know how to make your file into .pdf, please read these instructions: You can get help from a computer tutor at the Oakland Public Library. Contact us with further questions. 

Do I have to finish my entire application in one sitting?

You must complete all the required questions at one time and submit. There is no way to save your work. But after you submit, you will be sent a link enabling you to edit your application until the deadline. We recommend that you look at the questions on the application and then prepare and proofread your responses over time in a savable document. Then you can copy and paste your perfect responses into the online application and have your poems ready for uploading in .pdf form.

I don’t have Internet access. How do I apply?

You can visit your local library or school and use the internet there to submit your online application. You can get help from a computer tutor at the Oakland Public Library. Finally, if you have no other means to submit your application online, a paper application is also available for you to download and mail in. Contact us to send you one by snail mail: OYPL, Teen Services, Oakland Public Library, 125 14th Street, Oakland CA 94612

How do I go back to change something in my application?

Changes may be made to your entry before the deadline by using the “Edit Response” link in your confirmation email.  

Who can I contact if I’m having technical trouble with my application?

Email, or call the Oakland Public Library at (510) 761-7636.