Azfa Awad, Oxford’s newly-appointed Youth Ambassador for Poetry, has commenced her role with a royal first engagement: an evening of poetry at Buckingham Palace.
Nineteen-year-old Azfa was presented to the Queen and Prince Philip when she attended a Contemporary British Poetry Reception on Tuesday 19 November, enjoying performances by headline names such as Liz Lochead, Gillian Clarke and Carol Ann Duffy. Accompanying Azfa was Oxford City Poet (2011-2013) and Oxford Brookes University Senior Research Fellow in Creative Writing, Kate Clanchy, who was instrumental in establishing the Youth Ambassador role.
Originally a Somali-born refugee from Tanzania, Azfa is an enormously gifted performance and page poet who, this year, won the prestigious national Tower Poetry Prize for her poem, Origins, and was also awarded a fellowship working with children and writing spoken word poems on child migration for Apples and Snakes*.
Speaking after her visit to Buckingham Palace, which was organised by charity First Story**, 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”.
Azfa’s new role runs from November 2013 to July 2014 and this weekend she undertakes her first public engagement as Poet in Residence for the city’s Christmas Light Festival. As part of this event, Azfa has organised young people to respond in poetry to young refugees in Syria; Oxfam plans to launch an anthology which will include their work on Friday 29 November when she will be reading their poems along with her own at the Missing Bean Cafe.
Workshops with school children are also underway, taking place at Oxford Spires Academy, where Azfa is a former pupil, and at the Oxford Academy. These events will benefit not only from Azfa’s expertise but that of Kate Clanchy and poet Alan Buckley. Azfa also has a busy year ahead supporting a variety of Oxford Brookes events in 2014 before starting an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Warwick University.
Developing hidden talent
The aim of the Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry project is 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.
Kate says: “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 the confidence she has shown in organising the projects for Oxfam and Light Night. We had a lovely time at the Palace, meeting many wonderful poets”.
Eoin Flannery, Director of the Oxford Brookes University Poetry Centre, adds: “Azfa Awad’s appointment to the role Oxford Youth Ambassador for Poetry will build on the inspirational work completed by Kate Clanchy as Oxford City Poet between 2011 and 2013. These related roles remind us of the importance and validity of creative writing beyond the classroom. Such pioneering initiatives address key social and cultural areas such as literacy, creativity and self-expression, and have the capacity to instil confidence in those who engage with them.”
Oxford Brookes University and Oxford City Council are each contributing £1,000 towards a £2,000 grant to the unique Youth Ambassador for Poetry role. Oxford Brookes’ contribution is funded by the university-wide Civic and Community Engagement brief, that will see the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre continue to work in close partnership with Oxford City Council.
*the leading organisation for performance poetry in England
** a charity that supports and inspires creativity, literacy and talent in challenging UK secondary schools and their communities.