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Meet Stephanie Pacheco, the 2024 National Youth Poet Laureate

National Youth Poet Laureate Stephanie Pacheco. (Courtesy of Nicholas Nichols)
National Youth Poet Laureate Stephanie Pacheco. (Courtesy of Nicholas Nichols)

Stephanie Pacheco’s love for poetry first began at the middle school lunch table, where students often broke out into freestyle poems.

“In New York, we’re big on lunch table cyphers,” she says.  “Someone starts making a beat on a table and then … the other students would just start jumping in with a freestyle, with a rap, with a poem, over the beat … that’s a cypher.”

Pacheco says she didn’t start out as a natural, but the experience got her thinking about sharing her own words with others.

“I saw that happening and I was like, ‘oh, so if people are just walking around with all these stories in their back pockets, I need to be ready,’” she says.

Pacheco has been named the 2024 National Youth Poet Laureate. The award — organized by youth literary arts organization Urban Word —  typically recognizes a young poet whose work centers on social impact and advocacy.

Watch on YouTube.

Past winners include Amanda Gorman — who read one of her poems at the 2021 presidential inauguration — and Salome Agbaroji, a first-generation Nigerian American from Los Angeles.

Before receiving this title, Pacheco was named New York City Youth Poet Laureate and the Inaugural New York State Youth Poet Laureate. She says that poetry brings so much joy to her life.

“Poetry is an art form that just requires you to lead with love,” Pacheco says. “I’m just so excited to be able to share the magic of this art form with people all across the country now.”

Originally from the Bronx, she still lives in New York. Pacheco’s work explores her own community and upbringing. Her poem “Yo, Steph! Where You From?” is an artistic response to the questions of home and belonging.

“If someone were to ask me where I was from, this is how I would respond,” she says. “The poem aims to paint a picture of the community that I grew up in and highlight it for all of its color and bring light to it.”

Stephanie Pacheco winning NYC Youth Poet Laureate. (Courtesy of Nicholas Nichols)

Pacheco also hopes to use her work to advocate for educational justice and resources for schools.

“That’s something that’s very important to me and something that I infuse in my poetry,” she says. “I invite young, other young people, to do the same thing- to find something that you are passionate about that sets your heart on fire, and to use your art to push that forward.”

And in a time when many young people are actively advocating for issues they care about, Pacheco hopes other young adults feel empowered to speak out.

“I’d say to other young people to remember the power of your voice and your story and know that it is limitless,” she says, “that poems rooted in your hometown and in your community are poems that ought to be shared across the nation.”

‘Yo, Steph! Where You From?’

By Stephanie Pacheco

Kalyani Saxena produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Julia Corcoran. Saxena also adapted it for the web. 

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.