North Austin native and multi-dimensional poet avery r. young made history in April after being selected as Chicago's inaugural Poet Laureate.
The announcement came as no surprise to those who follow young's career as an award-winning poet, teaching artist, and musical produceramong many other hats he wears. The city's poet laureate program was announced in January and aims to increase awareness of Chicago's historic contributions to the literary arts while celebrating and honoring the efforts of Chicago's working artists.
Although the program itself is new, young is a veteran performer and has made a name for himself in the city's storytelling community. When he performs, he might recite a poem, sing it or even stomp and clap it outbut his words never fail to captivate audiences. The distinct way he commands the room has become signature in his brand of performance.
The multidisciplinary artist has been drawn to poetry since he was a boy. "Literature is always around me, and I've written for a long time," he said.
His passion for artistry was apparent as early as third grade. He partially credits having grown up in the Baptist Church on Chicago's West Side, where scriptures from songs were read and performed constantly.
young recalled, "I was introduced to the world of oratory composition through church, which led to teaching artistry and spoken word performances … then I really got interested in the idea that poetry is not just a genre of literature, but actually an art form."
He has since amassed a plethora of achievements and accolades. young recently performed at the inauguration ceremony for newly elected Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson. He is also the co-director of The Floating Museum; a co-mentor for the Rebirth Youth Poetry Ensemble; a fellow with Cave Canem, an organization centering and promoting the work of Black poets; a 2022 recipient of the Field Foundation of Chicago's Leaders for a New Chicago award; and a performer with his band, de deacon board, whose work merges gospel, soul and funk.
young's appointment as poet laureate is made possible by the City of Chicago, in partnership with the Chicago Public Library (CPL) and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) as well as the Poetry Foundation. In his role, young will be awarded a $50,000 two-year contract for both the commission of new poems and the creation of public programming, as well as serving as an ambassador for the city's literary and creative communities.
young takes pride in mentoring young artists. He said, "I think my teaching artists work is the best of me. Mentoring is the best of me, because it's not necessarily about crafting a poemit's about caring about another human being, and that has been the best part of my work."
Something as simple as walking down a city block can spark creative inspiration for young on any given day. He explained, "There are so many things that inspire me in Chicago, but one of the most pertinent things is where I grew up in North Austin."
He described growing up on the West Side, listening to the sounds of the street: "When you walk down North Avenue you see a storefront church, two doors down from a liquor store, then across the street from there a tavernon Sundays you hear the music hitting the streets and the sounds of washing machines from the laundromat … ." He likens the composition of these noises to that of a "symphony" that learns to occupy and intersect together in harmony.
Spontaneous inspiration is plentiful in Chicago, but young's creative writing process is much more disciplined. He described meticulous steps that go into constructing a poem, which he said are about extracting the language that is presented in his head, so that he can actualize the artistic vision.
"I laugh at this idea that I'm walking around like a metal detectoror like a poem detectorand all of a sudden I start blessing," young said.
The announcement of Chicago's inaugural Poet Laureate program marks the beginning of a new chapter in the city's creative investments. young is excited to create opportunities for poets and artists outside of himself, as he continues to work on developing creative spaces.
"Creating substantial programming that will have a significant impact on the city means opening doors," he said. "So we gotta make that door a little wider … or we gonna bust it down."