Austin, TX – The Texas Center for the Book (TCFB) recently welcomed Texan Kechi Mbah to discuss her distinction as 2021 National Student Poet of the Southwest. This conversation, as a part of the Texas Center for the Book’s #TXBookChat series with Center Coordinator Rebekah Manley, was filmed and is now available for literary enthusiasts, librarians and educators. This conversation offers an inside look into the budding poetry career of Mbah and her year of service offerings and goals for the literary community of Texas.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers partner to present the National Student Poets Program, the nation’s highest honor for young poets (grades 10–11) creating original work. Annually, five students are selected for one year of service, each representing a different geographic region of the country. The program believes in the power of youth voices to create and sustain meaningful change and supports them in being heard. Texas is honored to have a National Student Poet of the Southwest awardee for the second year in a row.
Kechi Mbah is a senior at Carnegie Vanguard High School and a Houston native. She founded her school’s poetry club in late 2019 and serves as an editor for her school’s award-winning literary magazine, The Courtyard. She first found a love for poetry when she stumbled upon a YouTube video of a Brave New Voices slam competition in the fall of 2019 and has been performing and writing poetry ever since.
"You can envision something and perform something a certain way, so people hear it a certain way,” said Mbah, “but you have to be very meticulous and careful with how you write something if you want it to be read that particular way.” She continued, “There's a quote that's like, 'if a poem gives you pleasure, you have understood it,' and I think that really encompasses poetry as a whole."
“We are fortunate to have Kechi Mbah represent Texas and inspire Texans as they explore their literary aspirations,” added TCFB Coordinator Rebekah Manley.
Mbah’s poetry explores many avenues, from making the known strange to chronicling her experiences as a Nigerian-American and the histories of her people. She is also passionate about strengthening her community and serves on the activism and community outreach committee of her school’s Black Student Union and has interned with NASA to help address problems within the food supply chain. She advanced to the semifinals of the 2020 Space City Slam (Houston’s largest teen slam competition) before it was canceled due to COVID-19, and her work can be found (or is forthcoming) in Blue Marble Review, The Incandescent Review, elementia, and elsewhere.
The #TXBookChat online series from the Texas Center for the Book offers brief discussions and programs with authors, librarians, and literary professionals. These informal “coffee chats” offer a quick look into different aspects of the state’s literary world. The #TXBookChat series seeks to bring together diverse voices and perspectives. Learn more about the program at https://www.tsl.texas.gov/txbookchat.
Established in 1987, the Texas Center for the Book seeks to stimulate public interest in books, reading, literacy, and libraries. The Center builds partnerships with library professionals, educators, authors, publishers and booksellers who provide support to our shared mission of promoting a love of literature throughout the Lone Star State. The Texas Center for the Book is under the direction of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission at the Lorenzo De Zavala State Archives and Library Building in Austin, Texas.
The Texas State Library and Archives Commission provides Texans access to the information needed to be informed, productive citizens by preserving the archival record of Texas; enhancing the service capacity of public, academic, and school libraries; assisting public agencies in the maintenance of their records; and meeting the reading needs of Texans with disabilities. For more information, visit tsl.texas.gov.