Meera Dasgupta: A Poet, an Activist, and the National Youth Poet Laureate

Recognized for her impactful poetry and unwavering activism, senior Meera Dasgupta was announced the youngest, first Asian-American National Youth Poet Laureate.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Sammi Yang

Senior Meera Dasgupta was announced as the fourth National Youth Poet Laureate over a Facebook Live virtual event on May 16. Distinguished from youth poet laureates from 40 different states and more than 50 cities by a panel of esteemed judges, Dasgupta made history as the youngest National Youth Poet Laureate to be appointed.

Dasgupta is a member of the National Youth Poet Laureate Program, which identifies and celebrates teen poets who use their artistic excellence to be leaders in bringing about civic engagement and social justice. Though unexpected, Dasgupta’s introduction to this program proved to be a fortunate one. During her off-season on the speech team, Dasgupta attended a climate poetry workshop where she believed she could gain valuable practice and exposure. There, she was introduced to a competition called Climate Speaks, to which she applied and became a finalist. She earned the opportunity to work with Urban Word teaching artists and became increasingly attracted to poetry as time went by. Searching for more opportunities, she stumbled across the NYC Poet Laureate Program and applied to it after being inspired by other young slam poets at Urban Word’s summer institute.

As a member of the program, she learned not only how to become a better poet but also how to become more open to her ideas. “I know that since joining Urban Word, I have been able to acknowledge myself more and be more vulnerable with all facets of myself, even the uncomfortable notions which I may not be able to speak about directly. Writing yourself onto the page can allow you to shed skin and bear an honest history. Some you have to peel back while others are left to congeal, only to be picked back up again,” she reflected.

The moment that she was named the 2020 National Youth Poet Laureate was unforgettable and thrilling. As the announcement video played, Dasgupta was nervous, but she assured herself that she had tried her best and that her efforts alone were something she could be proud of regardless of the end result. However, that didn’t keep her from feeling excitement when a banner with her picture filled the screen. “As soon as I saw the banner that named me United States Poet Laureate, I fell out of my chair. I couldn’t stop shaking and struggled to find the speech which I had saved somewhere in my computer. It felt so surreal,” she recalled.

The many positive feelings that came with the moment also came with naggings of self-doubt. “Of course, there is still this concept of imposter syndrome,” she continued. “Just knowing the talent of all the other laureates, the fact that there were 50 others from different cities in 40 states—all down to four of us from across the country—there were times when I wondered “why me?” I think that the trick to acknowledging these feelings is just believing in yourself and your own worth. As long as you let the art guide you and write your story, people will listen. Being in such a supportive cohort from the NYC poet laureates to the finalists in the nation, they have taught me a lot about trusting the process and myself. I am truly grateful for them,” she concluded.

Though recognized for a multitude of accomplishments throughout her adolescence, Dasgupta’s love for poetic language began at a much younger age. “When I was in the third grade, I had just started playing the acoustic guitar, so, naturally, I would periodically grab sheet music and write song lyrics. In my English classes, I would handwrite 20-page stories and would create mini poetry anthologies for projects,” she reflected. However, she believes that she found her true calling for spoken word during her experience on the Stuyvesant Speech Team. As a member of the speech team, Dasgupta gained experience interpreting and performing spoken word poems. As she found herself interpreting the words of others more than her own, she realized that her passion was to make and present something of her own. She felt that she would greatly prefer to perform her own words than someone else’s. “Nothing was more liberating to me than finally performing in front of an audience and receiving a standing ovation for something which I had created on my own,” she said. “Before joining the speech team, I had no idea what spoken word poems were or how to perform them. However, after much practice and numerous competitions, I have become more relaxed whether having to perform one-on-one or in front of thousands.”

Before she was a poet, Dasgupta was heavily involved in activism; she participated in various advocacy groups and considers those experiences to have significantly assisted her within the United States Youth Poet Laureate program. Additionally, her participation in the speech team and Young Democrats Club at Stuyvesant has been instrumental in making her comfortable with expressing political opinions through writing. Dasgupta utilizes poetry as “the crossroads between art and activism,” in an effort to convey to audiences “topics which are often dominated by statistics.” She hopes that her poetry will resonate emotionally with audiences so that she can effectively communicate social issues. Part of her goal is uplifting marginalized communities and portraying the experiences of those around her. “I have learned that sometimes, though facts may not be enough to change people’s minds, art can,” she explained.

Moving forward, Dasgupta intends to enter a political science major so that she may continue to pursue social justice, her main passion in recent years. She has a book deal with Penmanship Press, which could make her a published author by the time she’s 17 (a fact that does not fail to baffle her). She also hopes to continue to perform for audiences nationwide, even through video calls during the pandemic. In addition, Dasgupta would like to start a nonprofit organization with the mission of uplifting the voices of women of color within politics. She recalls that she might not have been exposed to so many valuable opportunities if she had not attended a nonprofit women’s leadership summer camp years ago. In order to realize these goals, Dasgupta sets for herself an expectation of what the successful achievement of her goals would look like and acknowledges that her goals may change as time goes on.

Her poetry will doubtless remain at the forefront of her aspirations of advocacy and social change for the foreseeable future. Dasgupta expressed how poetry offers a connection to her audience that is unparalleled and simply cannot be found in any other form. “For a moment on stage, even reading personal poems, I know that the entirety of the audience is journeying through one life—a life which becomes clearer to them with every breath taken,” Dasgupta expressed.