Young poets and writers enliven festival stage

Lunchtime won’t mean a break from mind-expanding and inspiring presentations at the Santa Fe International Literary Festival. On Saturday and Sunday, Santa Fe locals present spoken-word poetry and prose on the community stage. The stage is the most accessible aspect of the festival for the community — it’s free and open to the public — as well as for the young poets and writers who appear there.

director of Vital Spaces. Students from Santa Fe Community College also read their work there. “It’s a completely different sector of human beings, but equally powerful.”

For festivalgoers and the public, these readings offer an opportunity to “see what the future is looking like and talking like,” Ahmad says. They “can see what’s on the hearts and minds of the young people who are in their own backyard.”

Festival organizers tapped into local networks, connecting with teachers, other poets, and libraries, to find the 15 to 20 individuals who present on the community stage over two days, including students from the Witter Bynner Foundation poetry program, which has been involved in naming Santa Fe’s youth poet laureate since 2019.

Public readings ask students to step out of their comfort zones. “When stepping on stages, you hit another gear,” Ahmad says. Ahmad, a DJ and vocalist, has personal experience with this. “Getting out and performing to people who didn’t care about me — who weren’t my family or teachers and had no real stake in me — forced a level of professionalism and performance that made me better. It felt like the feedback was honest, and that’s one of the greatest things you can get.”

“They have amazing young folks that are part of their collective. These are the top of the top,” says community stage organizer Raashan Ahmad, who also serves as executive

By attending the festival, young poets and writers will “be able to visualize and see what levels writing can take you to. They’ll see how much hype there is and how big a scene it is. They’ll see where it can all lead to,” Ahmad says.

The literary festival’s Young Writers and Readers program represents a larger effort to foster the next generation of literary luminaries and aficionados across the City Different.

In the leadup to the festival, the organization partnered with Santa Fe Public Library for Reading Rudolfo Anaya — children’s story hours during which guest readers presented the godfather of Chicano literature’s bilingual books for children. On Friday, May 19, prior to his keynote, Colum McCann takes his Narrative 4 program to Santa Fe Community College. The program, which has been featured on Today, pairs people for

facilitator-led exchanges to build connection through the power of story. “Inhabiting someone else’s perspective helps dissolve the barriers that divide us,” McCann says on the Today segment.

Throughout the festival, young people can also tap into a “festival within a festival” environment, Ahmad says. For example, dedicated writing students can join small group discussions with SFILF authors, including Jennifer Egan, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Laila Lalami, Sally Denton, and Michael McGarrity. SFILF organizers hope the momentum for young poets and writers doesn’t end when the festival does.

“A lot of the work we’re doing is to make sure that all the hullabaloo from the weekend can be throughout the year,” Ahmad says. “We want to support the work these folks are doing and inspire them.”

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Santa Fe New Mexican