East student is state’s first youth poet laureate

A senior from Lincoln East High School has been named the state’s first youth poet laureate. 

The Nebraska Writers Collective announced on April 29 that Mimi Yu had received the historic honor. It’s the first year Nebraska has participated in the National Youth Poet Laureate Competition, an initiative of Urban Word in collaboration with local youth literary arts organizations across the country. The program identifies powerful youth poets who have a history of artistic success, civic and community engagement, social justice initiatives and leadership.

In its announcement, the Nebraska Writers Collective said the state’s youth poet laureate “will use their poetry to imagine a better, kinder, braver world. The words they write today will influence the stories we tell tomorrow.”

Yu also has collected numerous national honors for her visual art - painting, mixed media, drawing and illustration. She has been honored for previous writing and participated in slam poetry for East. At East she also started an Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Club, which tries to uplift marginalized Asian American communities, and has served as president of the school’s Art Club and Horticulture Club.

She said she was encouraged to first start writing poetry by a teacher in sixth grade. She considers herself more of a visual artist but said that work informs her writing.

“I'm definitely more of a visual person, so the way I process writing is that I’ll often go back into the past and dwell on specific moments,” Yu said. 

Yu had to submit a resume, a 500-word essay about what she does to show commitment to her community, and five poems.

East English teacher Tina Le encouraged Yu to apply.

“From the time that I've known Mimi as a member of the Slam Poetry Club and as a student in Creative Writing, it is evident how dedicated and driven she is in pursuing her passions and utilizing them to create positive change in her communities,” Le said. “In her poetry, Mimi explores complex issues and experiences with empathy and keen observation, noticing details and intricacies that others might overlook. Her poems invite the audience to see themselves and those around them more deeply.” 

As Nebraska’s youth poet laureate, some of Yu’s responsibilities will include successful completion of six readings, performances and Q+A sessions, virtual or otherwise, over the course of her 2021-22 appointment, and successful completion of a civic engagement project under the mentorship of a civic mentor.

You can watch Yu read two of her submitted poems:

Published: May 7, 2021, Updated: May 7, 2021