What began as an outlet for the struggles of her childhood has transformed into a story of triumph as a Philadelphia teen wins a national award for her poetry. Sojourner Ahebee won the silver medal for her Writing Portfolio entitled “Meditations on Home” in the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, the nation’s longest-running scholarship and recognition program for young adult creative arts and writing students.
Ahebee was recognized for her work in a ceremony at Carnegie Hall in early June, along with more than 800 national award winners representing 47 states. Some former winners and alumni of the program include Andy Warhol, Stephen King, and Zac Posen. Speakers at the event included entertainer Nick Cannon and artist Kay WalkingStick.
In addition to her silver medal, Ahebee was one of 5 students to be recognized as a National Student Poet, the highest honor for young poets presenting their own original pieces. As the Midwest representative in the 2013 National Student Poets Program, she acted as a national poetry ambassador, creating a service program that introduced poetry workshops into a local nursing home as a memory tool for residents with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Ahebee began writing poetry when she and her family came to Philadelphia after fleeing their home in the République de Côte d'Ivoire during the Ivorian Civil War when she was 7 years old. “I was encountering issues of identity and figuring out where I belonged as a girl with two homes,” Ahebee says. “Poetry really became that place for me to talk about those [challenges].”
When she was in her sophomore year of high school, Ahebee transferred to the Interlochen Arts Academy, a boarding school in Michigan specializing in the fine arts. As a creative writing major, she would take traditional academic high school courses, like math and science, in the morning and intensive writing courses, like playwriting and scriptwriting, in the afternoon. It was this artistic environment that inspired Ahebee to submit her work to the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. “[Interlochen] pushes not sitting on your own work, really getting it out there,” Ahebee says. “It’s really a part of Interlochen culture.”
A highlight of her time as a National Student Poet was when Emmy award-winning actor David Strathairn read her poem “How to Learn From the Sunset” at Carnegie Hall during the ceremony. “It was really interesting because he brought a completely different energy and light to the piece that I had never seen before when I had read my own work,” Ahebee says. “It was really humbling for him to read my work.”
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As Ahebee prepares to attend Stanford University in the fall, she is spending her summer writing a play and submitting poetry weekly to a poetry group for feedback. She is not sure if she will write poetry professionally, but she knows she will always write. “I’ve been writing for so long that I cannot see myself not writing,” Ahebee says.