Every year, one outstanding poet in our city is named the next Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. This distinction is awarded to a youth poet whose work shines on the page and in the community at large, demonstrating excellence not only in their written craft, but in their capacity to wield that craft as a tool for leadership, connection, and positive social change.
Our 2017 Youth Poet Laureate is Husnaa Hashim. We are honored that Husnaa’s poem “Song For a Dark Girl” found a home in APIARY 9, and we can’t wait to follow her work in this well-deserved new role. Get to know Husnaa better in our brief interview below!
(Heads up: You can also see Husnaa in action at "One Book, One Philadelphia Finale with Jacqueline Woodson" on 3/14, and Interfaith Center of Greater Philadelphia "Dare to Understand Awards" on 4/12.)
APIARY: Congratulations on your new appointment to Youth Poet Laureate! We heard the Poet Laureate program recently moved its headquarters to the Free Library. Imagine you could create a display to go up at every library branch in the city, right at the entrance – the first thing readers of all ages see when they walk in to the building. The display would introduce Philadelphians to five poets, one book each. Which books do you choose?
HUSNAA: Thank you!! it's an incredible honor. Having the program at the Free Library allows for fluidity and community engagement on a larger scale. If I could create a poetry display to go up in every library throughout Philadelphia geared towards all ages, I would choose to amplify the voices of Black womxn by including: "The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde" by Audre Lorde, "Brown Girl Dreaming" by Jacqueline Woodson, "Monk Eats an Afro" by Yolanda Wisher, "Citizen: An American Lyric" by Claudia Rankine, and "The January Children" by Safia Elhillo.
A: Besides being at home by yourself, is there a place or a person in this city you seek out as a safe haven or sanctuary? Has that place or person had an effect on your voice as a poet?
H: A place I seek sanctuary in is the library. Any library - right now the CCP and Wynnefield libraries to be specific. My whole life I have always been able to make a home out of being surrounded by words, and quiet time for introspection. My voice as a poet has been influenced by libraries due to the fact of physically being surrounded by words, and having the privilege of invoking the wisdom and knowledge of my WOC-writer-fighter-unapologetic-ancestors.
A: Your feature in the Inquirer mentions that you grew up home-schooled, and it was partly through finding online poetry communities and befriending writers on the internet that you started to realize you could be a writer, too. You’ve had support at home, school, and at PYPM as you pursued poetry as well. What words would you offer a young writer who doesn’t have those voices of support – someone who writes privately and is afraid to share their work, or is unsure how to start submitting and performing their work?
H: I definitely have had a lot of support with my writing career. I would advise a young writer who doesn't have that support to write EVERY DAY in the same notebook. Make it a habit. It can be a single line, a full page journal entry, etc. as long as you're making it a part of who you are, stepping back, and utilizing this time for self-actualization. Writing isn't separate from everyday living, so when you create time for writing you are creating time to live authentically.
Personally, I wouldn't consider myself to be confident. I have gained the courage to submit and perform my work by writing regularly and actually just DOING IT. If you don't submit to that anthology, if you don't arrive to the slam early and register for that open mic, guess what? it's not going to happen. And you're not going to make it big because you're not allowing yourself the right to make mistakes, and fail, and cry about it. After the tears dry up and its become a habit, you have the opportunity to try again and grow.
You can read Husnaa's poem Song for a Dark Girl in our archives here.
Husnaa Hashim is the 2017-2018 Youth Poet Laureate of Philadelphia. She is a dual-enrolled senior at Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus and the Community College of Philadelphia. Husnaa has competed with the Philly Youth Poetry Movement, performed at various conferences and festivals, and received numerous Scholastic Art and Writing Awards including a National American Voices Medal awarded at Carnegie Hall. Husnaa’s work can be found in RookieMag, KidSpirit Online, the Kenyon Young Writers Anthology, the “Voices of the East Coast” Anthology, and APIARY Magazine’s “APIARY 9,” among others. She enjoys making flower crowns and spending time with her cat, Maya (Angelou) Luna.