Indian American student wins Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate title

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Kalamangalam had applied three times earlier

Rukmini Kalamangalam

An Indian American student has won Houston’s Youth Poet Laureate title for her poem ‘After Harvey,’ reported Houston Chronicle.

Rukmini Kalamangalam, a first-generation Indian American who attends Carnegie Vanguard High School in Houston Independent School District is the first Indian American and third youth to win the title.

The program is evolved out of a partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Houston Public Library, and Writers in the Schools.

Kalamangalam’s one-year term includes a scholarship, publication in the Houston Chronicle, and mentorship from Houston’s Poet Laureate, Deborah D.E.E.P. Mouton. Kalamangalam will also serve as Cultural Arts Advisor to the Mayor’s Youth Council.

“I would like to establish a space where young poets and other artists can collaborate and share their experiences,” she said. “I would also like to start a column in a local publication where students can publish their favorite poems, and I would like to implement poetry readings in public places where people gather.”

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Kalamangalam had applied three times earlier too. Each time she submitted five poems, three essays, and a resume to take part in the competition. Every year, the top five finalists are interviewed by a panel of experts and narrowed down to two. For this year’s winner, the mayor made the final selection, and the winner was announced at the annual WITS gala, which took place this year on Thursday, Nov. 9.

According to media reports, the gala held at The Astorian raised nearly $200,000.

Kalamangalam was born in England, where her parents met in graduate school. The family immigrated to the US when she was six. She has attended Roberts Elementary and Lanier Middle schools prior to Carnegie Vanguard.

Creative writing provided a safe space to process her experiences, she said. As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, Kalamangalam hopes to extend similar opportunities to Houston youth. She added that she is especially interested in breaking down divisions between communities, age groups, and writing genres.

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“After a traumatic event like Hurricane Harvey, I think we would benefit, more than ever, from shared experiences,” Kalamangalam said. “Simply through collaborative artwork, there are connections that form and start to rebuild the cracks between our neighborhoods.”

She plans to study economics in college and follow that with studies in international law and wants to become a lawyer.

‘AFTER HARVEY’

by Rukmini Kalamangalam

The first rain after the hurricane

We held our breath

Tried not to imagine what it would feel like to be drowning again

So soon after the taste of stolen air

Replaced the salty breathlessness of rising tides

The first rain after the hurricane

We were ready before the flash-flood warning, already watching as

Water lapped at the curb

Feasted on the rotted remains of gutted houses

Tried to wash away the evidence of its crimes

The first rain after the hurricane

We saw a pack of wild dogs at CVS

Snarling and slavering in red wellington boots

They watched us with hungry eyes

Snouts sniffing the air for threats from the sky & each other

The first rain after the hurricane,

The water washed away as quick as it had come

Leaving streets dark & empty &

Water still priced 3.99 a gallon

We scoured the clouds for signs of false promises

The first rain after the hurricane,

We tethered our homes together,

Waited to become chains of floating memories

Prayed for a second chance at survival,

Our heads still bowed as the rain evaporated, leaving only stillness behind