22 November 2013

New Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry Visits Buckingham Palace

Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry Azfa Ali

Azfa Awad, Oxford's Youth Ambassador for Poetry, funded by Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council, has commenced her new role with a significant first engagement - an evening of poetry at Buckingham Palace.

Kate Clanchy, Oxford Brookes University’s Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing, has established the first ever Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry, in order to celebrate and develop the talent of Oxford’s young poets. The new Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry project aims to develop the legacy of the Oxford City Poet partnership, which so far has been extremely successful in uncovering the hidden poetry talent in the young people living in Oxford. In 2011, Kate Clanchy became Oxford’s first City Poet and worked with Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council to bring poetry to the community and inspire people to realise their own potential to compose poetry.

Azfa Awad, who is originally a refugee from Somalia, is an extremely gifted performance and page poet who is nationally recognised for her poetry writing. She may have only just finished her A Levels at the Oxford Spires Academy, but she has already won the prestigious national Tower Poetry prize 2013 for her poem ‘Origins’. Azfa has also been awarded a fellowship working with children’s refugee stories by Apples and Snakes, the leading organisation for performance poetry in England, and in addition she has also been guaranteed a place at Warwick University, where she will study Creative Writing in September 2014.

Eighteen-year-old Azfa was presented to the Queen and Prince Phillip when she attended the poetry reading on Tuesday 19 November, where she enjoyed performances by headline names such as Liz Lochead, Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy. The event was arranged by First Story, a charity that supports and inspires creativity, literacy and talent in challenging UK secondary schools and their communities. Azfa was accompanied by Oxford City Poet and Oxford Brookes University Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing, Kate Clanchy. Kate said:

"Azfa is a natural teacher and fantastic role model as well as a gifted writer in her own right. I have been amazed at her initiative and confidence she has shown in organising the projects for Oxfam and Light Night. We had a lovely time at the Palace, and met many wonderful poets."

Speaking after her visit to Buckingham Palace, Azfa commented:

"It was amazing to meet Her Majesty and know that she has an interest in how we are helping young people connect with poetry. It was the perfect opportunity to mention my new role as Oxford’s Youth Ambassador for Poetry, in which I have been encouraging young people to not only express themselves but respond to other young people in Syria who are trying to do the same in partnership with Oxfam. The highlight of the evening was meeting some of my favourite young Spoken Word Artists: Jacob Sam Larose, Kate Tempest; and also older poets who have inspired me such as Grace Nichols and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy."

From November 2013, Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council are funding the new Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry. Oxford Brookes will be contributing towards a £2,000 grant, which will be awarded to the Youth Ambassador for Poetry in recognition of the high quality of their work and commitment to celebrating and developing youth poetry in Oxford. This unique role is co-funded by Professor Paul Inman , Pro Vice Chancellor and Dean of the Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment, of which the School of Arts is a part of.

Paul Inman, Pro Vice Chancellor at Oxford Brookes University said:

"Good poetry always has a place. In a volatile world littered with uncertainty, it frames our dreams, maps our fears and offers us hope for our collective futures. Writing poetry is also great fun. Oxford Brookes University is supporting this particular initiative because it will encourage many young people locally to appreciate and delight in the power of the written word."

The new Oxford Youth Ambassador role will mean Azfa will support, develop and celebrate young poets and youth poetry in Oxford. She will work with fellow poets Kate Clanchy and Alan Buckley to support teenagers at the Oxford Spires Academy and The Oxford Academy. A spokesperson for Oxford City Council said:

"Azfa is a gifted teacher and charismatic role model, and she is well able to mentor individuals, teach small groups, and coach performers, both for small events such as school assemblies and large ones such as the Poetry by Heart competitions."

Azfa will also be performing and writing at City Council events, such as the Lord Mayor’s Celebration and May Morning. This weekend she undertakes her first public engagement as Poet in Residence for the city’s Christmas Light Festival and, as part of the event, Azfa has organised young people in Oxford to respond in poetry to young refugees in Syria. Oxfam plans to launch an anthology which will include their work on Friday the 29th of November; where she will be reading their poems along with her own at the Missing Bean Café, Oxford.