Meet Avalon Hogans, Houston Youth Poet Laureate

Avalon Hogans / Courtesy of Writers in the Schools

Writer, activist, and senior at Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Avalon Hogans was recently appointed Houston’s sixth Youth Poet Laureate. She will serve from fall 2021 – fall 2022 and receive a $1000 scholarship.

During her tenure, Hogans will create and implement a civic engagement project. Past youth poet laureate projects have included reading series, workshops, book drives, and podcasts. Hogans will work with Houston Poet Laureate Emanuelee “Outspoken” Bean to develop her own project to serve the community. The position also aims to empower young people and to address a social issue through poetry.

Houston has the longest-running citywide youth poet laureate program in Texas. Since 2016, the city has appointed a teen poet in the position, which is sponsored by Writers in the Schools, the Mayor’s Office of Cultural Affairs, and Houston Public Library. The adult counterpart, the position of Houston Poet Laureate, was created in 2013.

Houston Arts Journal reached out to Avalon Hogans for the following interview and permission to print her poem “Big Red Road.”

Avalon Hogans with her parents, Marvin and Bristy Hogans, at the Houston Youth Poet Laureate ceremony, November 17, 2021 at Writers in the Schools / photo by Bhavin Misra

When, and how, did you fall in love with poetry?

I fell in love with poetry in middle school. Back then, I would use poetry as an outlet for my angsty emotions. I remember in eighth grade, I got really into reading verse novels like Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and Solo by Kwame Alexander. But it was The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo that I was truly in love with. At 14 years old, that novel heavily influenced my writing style and my love for writing.

I remember I started writing poems inspired by Acevedo’s, and I would share them on my Instagram at the time. My friends would reshare my poems and give me positive feedback. It was such an amazing and affirming feeling as a young aspiring poet to evoke feelings from others using my writing, even if it was just on a small scale.

How would you describe the kind of poems you write and themes you’re interested in?

I would describe the kind of poems I write as authoritative, identity-based, and charged. Most of the poetry I choose to share and/or perform center themes of Black pride, womanism, anti-racism, and social change. 

How does a poem begin for you? Do you have any writing rituals?

I don’t have any specific writing rituals. My poems typically begin with a brain dump on a blank Google Docs page or in my notebook. I prefer to write a poem all at once with minimal distractions. Usually, I have Thesaurus.com and my Kendrick Lamar playlist on deck in case I’m needing some extra inspiration.

What are your plans as Houston Youth Poet Laureate?  Will you have a specific project?

As Houston Youth Poet Laureate, I’m currently in the running for Regional Youth Poet Laureate and I’m planning out my service project. So yes, I will have a project. I’m very excited to work on it. I plan on centering it around teaching anti-bias and anti-racist practices. I love teaching. I’ve taught middle schoolers and elementary students creative writing and artivism through volunteer programs at my school, and it has always left me feeling fulfilled. I just want to be able to give as many people as possible the resources, awareness, and courage it takes to be an artist, ally and/or activist.

Avalon Hogans performing at the Houston Youth Poet Laureate ceremony / photo by Bhavin Misra

Why do you think poetry is important – why should people read or write it? 

Poetry is important because it unifies people through emotion and experience. Spoken word poetry has the power to create change because it commands and demands ears. Written poetry has the power to create change because it requires patience and consideration. This art form makes people listen and think. People should read poetry to listen to new ideas, and people should write poetry to share their own.

Has the pandemic impacted you as poet?

The pandemic has taught me how to be patient and flexible with sharing my craft. While it was uncomfortable performing spoken word to a mass of silent, staring video squares, I was able to adapt. I collaborated with many local advocacy groups for virtual fundraisers, info sessions, and rallies. I taught writing skills to younger students virtually. I had more time to read. During the pandemic, I wrote a lot of poems that I couldn’t perform or workshop, but I believe that taught me the significance of self-critiquing, revision, and it gave me time to plan ahead for future live readings.

Regarding “Big Red Road,” could you tell me a little bit about what inspired this poem?  If there is a story behind it, I’d love to hear.

I wrote “BIG RED ROAD” in June of 2020 during the height of the Black Lives Matter movement. This was a time when George Floyd’s name was trending, and protests were occurring in most major cities. I felt compelled to write this piece as an attempt to express my feelings of grief and anger. A friend of mine helped me revise this, and I shared it on social media. I captioned this poem saying, “Red represents destruction, both good and bad. Because it takes destruction in order to rebuild. And we have a lot of rebuilding to do.”

BIG RED ROAD
By Avalon Hogans

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

our lives are prizes
for easy prices
in their eyes.

but what they don’t know is,
our Red is coming,
and they won’t be able to catch us
after the pride stampedes.

i see Red in their vile souls;
i see Red in the streets.
big Red road where
the intersection meets.

big Red fire trucks,
big Red graffiti.
big Red anger
marching through the city.

Red eyes over blue uniforms
and the 99 sheep.

blood on my fallen
brothers and sisters.

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

the power hungry
can’t tell right from wrong;
blinded by privilege and
deaf to kendrick songs.

but only justice can
relieve the Red away.
ignore our voices,
and Red is here to stay.

it’s taking no peace
to know peace.

loud Red static
all around the nation.
take a step back, america,
and look at your creation.

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