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The Eastern Echo Thursday, May 30, 2024 | Print Archive
The Eastern Echo

Ruth Mella Headshot

EMU student Ruth Mella named first Ypsilanti Youth Poet Laureate

The City of Ypsilanti announced the winner of its first annual Youth Poet Laureate program, Eastern Michigan University junior Ruth Mella. 

Mella, a Bronx native, is studying social work at EMU and enjoys being active in the community. Mella developed a deeper interest in poetry after a workshop during her teen years and later began being more open with her writing.

“I decided to share because it just felt right and now … I understand the true meaning of being a poet laureate,” Mella said.

Ruth Mella Poem
A poem by Ruth Mella, Ypsilanti's first Youth Poet Laureate.

The Ypsilanti Youth Poet Laureate program, established in 2023, was formed so a poet could represent the city on their own. Formerly, the Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor, in partnership with Urban Word NYC, named a youth poet laureate of Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti.

Ciatta Tucker, the founding program director for Ypsilanti’s Youth Poet Laureate, is a poet herself and is excited to have a program focused on Ypsilanti.

“I’ve been here all my life, I was born here,” Tucker said. “So to be born here and start new stuff in the city that people have always been waiting on to happen, that’s really an honor.”

The applications for poet laureate were posted in October 2023 and judges for the competition included local and national poets and writers; the judges were Dylan Gilbert, Maria Koi, Marlin M. Jenkins, Desiraé Simmons, and Darius Simpson.

Applicants were judged on their writing ability and leadership experience, and consideration was taken for a passion for social justice.

“I think [social justice] is important because there’s a lot of things people are passionate about here,” Tucker said. “For the poet laureate to have those types of morals and values along with having that prestigious title, I feel like a strong background in social justice should also come with that, too.”

As a part of the program, the poet laureate received a $500 cash prize and another $500 to put toward a social justice project of their choice. Mella has a vision for what her project will be, and it’s one that she hopes will bring the community together on the topic of housing justice.

“I advocate so much for better housing policies,” Mella said. “I really want to see better in my community when it comes down to supporting people that are low-income and do need housing.”

Mella will be honored as the Ypsilanti Youth Poet Laureate at the May 7 Ypsilanti City Council meeting. She will have the opportunity to perform at city events and publish her poetry in a book at the end of the year.

One of the events planned is a set of readings by Mella and a group of other young poets at the Ypsilanti Freighthouse on June 9. The event will be free and open to the whole community.

NOTE: Monday's print version of this story misstated the date on which the Ypsilanti City Council will honor Ruth Mella. The web version has been updated to reflect the correct date.