As part of National Poetry Month, Mayor Sylvester Turner announced the selections of Deborah Mouton – an internationally-known poet, singer, actress, photographer, wife and mother – as Houston’s third Poet Laureate and Fareena Arefeen as the city’s second Youth Poet Laureate.
“Houston has so many talented page and performance poets and a strong literary arts community,” said Mayor Turner. “Deborah Mouton has the expertise and passion for poetry that will be invaluable in working with arts groups of all disciplines to take poetry to all of Houston’s neighborhoods. Likewise, Fareena is a tremendous choice for the Youth Poet Laureate, and I am impressed by her commitment to serving the community.”
“The Houston Public Library (HPL) congratulates Deborah and Fareena and joins the mayor in recognizing their invaluable talent,” said Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson. “We are excited about working with both of them and look forward to seeing them extend their passion for poetry around the city.”
Mouton was chosen from among Houston’s poetry community through a competitive application and interview process by a panel of local literary arts experts. Her two-year term begins in April 2017 and runs through April 2019. As Poet Laureate, she will work closely with the Houston Public Library and the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs to implement her Community Outreach Project. She will also conduct eight workshops in Houston Public Libraries, create videos and poems to share on social media and mentor the Houston Youth Poet Laureate.
“It’s such an honor to be chosen to serve Houston as the Poet Laureate,” said Deborah Mouton. “I can’t wait to work with local artists and citizens to shine light on the unique voices and cultural experiences that this great city has to offer.”
Arefeen, a junior at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA), succeeds Andrew White, a graduate of HSPVA and a freshman at New York University who now serves as U.S. Regional Youth Poet Laureate and is in the running to be the National Youth Poet Laureate. Arefeen’s one-year term includes a scholarship, a book publication and mentorship from Houston’s Poet Laureate.
The Youth Poet Laureate program is led by the Writers in the Schools with coordination from the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs and the Houston Public Library.
“Young people are capable of all the wisdom and insight of adults. They can develop words that are so powerful they could change the world,” says Robin Reagler, executive director of Writers in the Schools. “With the Youth Poet Laureate program, our wish is to amplify the voices of these young people so they can deliver a powerful message to our community.”
Arefeen draws inspiration from her mother, who works at a gas station and raised her daughter to love the poetry of the Bengali people, whom she regards as “poets at heart.” As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, Arefeen hopes to make the written word more accessible across communities and is especially interested in using public art as a vehicle for poetic expression and social change.
“There is space for everyone in writing,” says Arefeen. “I would like marginalized groups of people to recognize the validity of their work. I want people to share their words and hear the voices of others around them because poetry is a device of connection.”
Arefeen will participate in several community events throughout Houston, where she will lead youth in contributing to a visual art installation created out of their own poetry. Their poetry will be displayed and later photographed and archived for a gallery opening and reading at the end of her term.
The Houston Poet Laureate Selection Committee is comprised of a diverse group of poets, scholars and literary experts. The group includes Ashley Turner, First Daughter of Houston; Robin Davidson, current Houston Poet Laureate; Marina Tristan, Arte Publico Press; Reyes Ramirez, DiverseWorks; Jack McBride, Writers in the Schools; Sally Connoll, UH Director of Graduate Studies, and Martha Serpas, UH Professor and Author. Non-voting members include: Jennifer Schwartz, Houston Public Library, and Radu Barbuceanu, Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs. The final selection for the Poet Laureate was made by Mayor Turner. The Poet Laureate is awarded a $10,000 honorarium for the two-year term.