By Madeleine Thompson
David Lynn, professor of English and editor of The Kenyon Review, is helping put Kenyon on the map. The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities chose him to participate in the National Student Poets Program. He was selected based on the recommendation of his friend Robert Casper, head of the Poetry and Literature Center in the Office of Scholarly Programs at the Library of Congress.
First Lady Michelle Obama, who announced the program on Nov. 21, is the honorary chair of the event’s sponsor, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH), whose goal is to “plant and water the seeds of future artists.”
The program’s panel of judges will choose five finalists from the winners of Scholastic’s Art and Writing Award to receive $5,000 scholarships and serve as literary ambassadors in their communities. The judges include Lynn, Casper, poet Terrence Hayes and Alice Quinn from the Poetry Society of America. Past winners of Scholastic’s writing competition include Truman Capote, Sylvia Plath and Joyce Carol Oates.
“Part of the effort is for this to be locally and regionally based,” Lynn said. “They’re reaching out to local schools and libraries and local organizations so that there can be follow-up afterwards. The point is to encourage both these kids and others to continue writing.”
Unlike past iterations of the program, this year’s National Student Poets will be involved in encouraging the development of creative skills even after they win recognition. Once chosen, the students will begin a year of promoting poetry and creative writing, during which they will lead workshops and poetry readings in libraries, museums, and schools in their region. They may even get to work with the U.S. Department of Education.
“This is a really exciting time for writing in America,” Lynn said. “For all the people complaining about how bad the schools are and that kids don’t read, in my experience there are lots of kids out there who care passionately about writing and reading and poetry. They’re the kind of people who come to Kenyon.”
“As the data consistently shows, students who are engaged with the arts do better in school and in life,” Rachel Goslins, executive director of the PCAH said in a press release. “We can think of no better way to demonstrate these benefits than by engaging a class of talented and promising student poets to work with their peers and lead by example.”
“The point is to have it be promoted nationally,” Lynn said, “to have Michelle Obama make a fuss and to have all these other national organizations be involved.
The National Student Poets program will choose five new finalists every year starting this summer, and the hope is that it will have a lasting impact on not just the winners but also on small communities where the arts are not emphasized enough. The students chosen for this honor are meant to be relatable and familiar so that creative writing is seen as something anyone can do.
“There’s more good writing being done now in America than ever before in history,” Lynn said, a champion of creative writing and published author himself. “There are a lot of reasons for that, and I think there are more people engaged seriously in writing partly because of all the writing programs.”
Lynn plans to dovetail his efforts on that committee with a new program at the Kenyon Review . He recently revealed the KR Fellowships which will bring to Kenyon “two distinguished young people who have finished their M.F.A. (Master of Fine Arts) or Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) and are just beginning writing careers” for two years to teach, interact with students, and become a part of the community. “It’s very exciting ,and [Kenyon] students are going to love it,” Lynn said. “Every two years the program will bring a fabulous poet and prose writer to Gambier.”
Lynn is looking forward to all the new developments in the literary world that are coming up and the effects they will have on students and writers everywhere. “Poetry is the precise use of language in a musical way. It’s very important. What we’re doing is trying to bring that awareness back,” Lynn said. “If I get a hug from Michelle Obama, that would be great too.”
An earlier version of this article misstated that First Lady Michelle Obama chose Lynn to sit on the National Student Poets Program. He was chosen by the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, of which Obama is the honorary chair.
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