Nairobi Barnes, 18 years old, has been named the 2023 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate after competing with six other Finalists, winning a $5,000 college scholarship generously funded by the Friends of the Oakland Public Library.
"We are so excited to welcome the new Laureate, and all of the 2023 Finalists into our incredible community of poets,” says Sharon McKellar, supervising librarian for teen services at the Oakland Public Library. “Their words hold power and with the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program’s platform, we hope that everyone in Oakland, and beyond, will have the chance to be moved by and learn from everything that Nairobi and all these young poets will share with us.”
The award was announced by District 4 Councilmember Janani Ramachandran on Friday evening at the culmination of a packed standing-room only live event during which all seven Finalists performed.
Barnes, a 2022 graduate of Oakland Military Institute, will represent the Oakland community through poetry, media and public appearances.
In addition to being the 2023 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Barnes many accomplishments include winning the Superior and Impressive Writing Chops award at her high school, Oakland Military Institute, a published op-ed in Teen Vogue, Black Women on Body Discrimination, From Colorism to Natural Hair Discrimination, and a published poem in the 2016 book, Accomplished, a collection of poems by The American Library of Poetry.
Barnes defines herself as a poet, artist, and activist. She has created educational videos and, as a student journalist, press releases about topics including voting rights, discrimination against Black women, and Black hair and how it defines her culture. As a woman who leads with her heart, she says, her words have never steered her wrong and with every new journey she embarks on, a poem follows.
On being the 2023 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Ms. Barnes says, “Poetry is more than the words written for the speaker, poetry is more than the depths of emotion that it evokes, poetry is more than myself and every other poet before me. It is community; it is the city of Oakland that I call home, it is the way my mother wishes me well, it is the way I love myself and others. Poetry is what keeps me kind and loving, it is my promise to others that I will lead this year with fulfillment and bravery, and it is my greatest pleasure to stand beside the Oakland Public Library to spread poetry and all its love to others.”
Michelle Vong, a 17-year-old rising senior at Oakland Technical High School, was named Oakland’s 2023 Vice Youth Poet Laureate and was honored on stage alongside Barnes and the other 2023 Finalists: Aniylah Dixon, Ella Gordon, Serafina Mackintosh, Isabel Park, and Maya Raveneu-Bey.
Bios of and performances by all 2023 Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Finalists
The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program, in its twelfth year, is run by Oakland Public Library Teen Services and is an unprecedented citywide effort to celebrate literacy through poetry and connect young writers to far-reaching opportunities. Each year, OPL accepts submissions from talented Oakland writers (ages 13-18) to be considered for the honor.
The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, the Vice Youth Poet Laureate, and all Finalists are available for performances, talks, and workshops. Submit your booking requests at oaklandlibrary.org/yplbooking. Stay up to date on events and appearances with the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate on Instagram and Facebook (@youhpoetlaureate) or at oaklandlibrary.org/youthpoets.
The Oakland Youth Poet Laureate program is supported by a broad coalition of partner agencies across the Bay Area: Chapter 510, Write-to-Read, Youth Speaks, and the Alameda County Library as well as by national partner, Urban Word.