Saturday, June 15, 2024

Virginia’s Community Colleges Name First Poet Laureate

Ana Leng (Photo provided by Virginia’s Community Colleges)

RICHMOND — Ana Leng, an international student from Cambodia currently completing an associate degree at Central Virginia Community College in Lynchburg, was recently named the inaugural Poet Laureate of Virginia’s Community Colleges.

Leng was one of 18 poet laureates from 20 participating Virginia community colleges who convened at Piedmont Virginia Community College for the state competition on Saturday, according to the Virginia Community College System (VCCS).

Poetry for the event interpreted the theme “I belong,” and participants were judged based on their submitted poems, their performance, and an interview with a five-judge panel, according to VCCS. Participants also were asked to propose a project that raises awareness of poetry.

More than 300 students entered poetry or visual arts across the system.

“As we were lined up on stage, I just remember thinking that everyone did so well and that each poem was so different and unique,” said Leng. “Hearing the host call out ‘Central Virginia!’ at first did come as a shock, but I remember feeling quite honored and grateful for the title and for everyone who helped me get to that moment. Once the shock wore off, all I could think was, ’It’s time to get to work!’”

Leng came to the U.S. to pursue higher education and plans to transfer after community college and major in psychology. With a passion for mental health, she has hopes of a career where she can help people overcome emotional and psychological challenges to improve their quality of life. Her poem was titled “How Dare I Say That I Do Not Belong?”

VCCS noted the event also featured some of the work of Visual Art Luminaries from community colleges around Virginia in an exhibit assembled by Fenella Belle, a professor at Piedmont Virginia. Harper Ballance, a student at Southside Virginia Community College, won a People’s Choice award, which the audience selected. Ballance, a student at Halifax County High School, is currently working toward an associate degree. After high school, she plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University to study Kinetic Imaging and Graphic Design.

The judges of the state Poet Laureate competition were Cherryl Cooley, president of the Poetry Society of Virginia; Luisa Igloria, Virginia’s Poet Laureate 2020-2022; Jeff Keller, 2024 Virginia Teacher of the Year; Max Rowland, of Habitat for Humanity of Greater Charlottesville; and Terri Thompson, vice chair of the State Board of Community Colleges.

A Virginia Humanities grant supported professional development for the poet laureates and visual art luminaries, VCCS said. While in Charlottesville, the poet laureates and a few of the visual art luminaries, some of whom joined via Zoom, participated in a workshop led by Dr. Garreth Blackwell, a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. The grant also will support a book that will feature both poetry and visual arts related to the theme, “I Belong.” The book will be published this summer and proceeds from the sales will be used for scholarships.

Carla Kimbrough, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer for the VCCS and coordinator of the competition, said she was pleased with the outcome of the inaugural competition and grateful for the support of the Advisory Council on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Chancellor Dore, and all the presidents who decided to host competitions at their colleges.

“This has been a transformational experience for students, faculty, and even judges. The talent of our students is inspiring. I am so pleased that our students were courageous enough to be transparent and share their vulnerability,” Kimbrough said. “The arts, whether in words or visuals, are powerful. I am glad that we have a platform across the VCCS to uplift our talented students.”

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