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News & Events for the Smith College Community
Smith Arts May 2, 2023

Connecting To Young People Through Poetry

Acclaimed poet Hanif Abdurraqib scores big with young audience

Hanif Abdurraqib spoke to local high school sudents at Smith.
Photos by Phillip Keith
On April 25, more than 250 students from Northampton, Amherst, Easthampton, and Granby high schools came to Smith to hear acclaimed poet Hanif Abdurraqib read his work, share his Spotify playlists, chat about the NBA, and answer questions from the students about poetry.

Organizers hope Abdurraqib’s visit, sponsored by The Boutelle-Day Poetry Center at Smith, will be the first of many such events that provide the opportunity for local high school students to interact with contemporary poets and their work. “They get to engage with this material in a way that is not going to be evaluated,” says Jennifer Blackburn, the center’s program and outreach coordinator. “They get to think about what it means to write something down and share it with an audience.” Abdurraqib was the perfect choice to connect with the young audience. “I was really impressed with the students’ questions,” says Matt Donovan, the center’s director. “So many of them were thoughtful and showed a real engagement in his work as well as a need for advice on their own creative work.”


Students line up at Sage Hall


Students showed their appreciation for Abdurraqib’s visit by quickly writing thank-you letters to him. Here are some excerpts:

I asked you a question on how you convert inspiration to creation. You really inspired my creative output on life with your presentation. I learned that I cannot force an idea, but I need to let it come to me, and I need to be patient. Patience is a thing I struggle with, but you really opened my eyes to how initial ideas don’t need to be insanely complicated, and how they can grow and flourish. Your poems were great! They very much resonated with me, and they were very pleasant to listen to. The concepts you think of are amazing! —JACK, GRADE 11 

Hanif Abdurraqib on stage


What I really enjoyed about your performance was the NBA talk because it was hilarious and it was very entertaining; I also just love basketball. Some surprises I got from your performance were the NBA speech and that anyone could ask questions about any pop culture, NBA, etc. —JOSH, GRADE 11

Hanif Abdurraqib on stage


Your words were so powerful and moving, and I feel so lucky to have been able to hear you speak. Your talent is truly awe-inspiring, and I was blown away by the way you were able to captivate the audience with your words. Your poetry is so thought-provoking and profound, and it was an honor to be able to experience it firsthand. —NATALIE, GRADE 11