West High School junior to be Iowa’s first student poet ambassador

Shreya Khullar will be inaugurated as Iowa’s first student poet ambassador on the last day of National Poetry Month.


Camber Ostwinkle

Iowa City West High junior Shreya Khullar is seen outside of the Hancher Auditorium on Tuesday, April 28, 2021. Khullar is Iowa’s first Student Poet Ambassador.

Delaney Orewiler, Arts Reporter

West High School junior Shreya Khullar will be inducted as the state of Iowa’s first student poet ambassador on April 30, the last day of National Poetry Month. Her role will involve running workshops, reading poetry, and being a face for young poets in Iowa.

When Khullar found out she was chosen for the role, she said she felt ecstatic.

“I was overwhelmed at first, but I think now I’m growing into the role as we’re doing more stuff with it,” Khullar said. “I was shocked, as it is a new program. I was surprised, grateful, and confused, and overall just happy.”

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This year is a pilot year for the student poet ambassador program, which was created by Jan Warren, assistant director for student services at the Belin-Blank Center on the University of Iowa campus. Warren said she was motivated by seeing the youngest inaugural poet, Amanda Gorman, speak at President Joe Biden’s inauguration and decided to try to make a positive impact by starting a student poet ambassador program in Iowa.

“I was thinking about what I could do to make a difference in the state of Iowa around poetry and young writers,” Warren said. “The right words at the right time can have an incredible impact, and I think this program with Shreya as our ambassador is the right program at the right time with the right person.”

While coordinating in February, Warren sat down with John Kenyon, director of the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature, and Alison Galstad, a UNESCO board member. From there, the three came up with a plan to have the first student poet ambassador inaugurated by the end of the month, Warren said.

The process of choosing Iowa’s first student poet ambassador involved pulling the top three Iowa contestants from the poetry category of the Scholastic Arts and Writing awards. After selecting the poets, their works were blindly reviewed by those who made up the student ambassador poet committee. Next, they were interviewed, and in the end, Khullar came out as the top candidate.

Both Kenyon and Galstad, members of the committee, agreed that what stood out most about Khullar’s poetry was its maturity.

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“The fact that it was written by a high school student was pretty staggering when you look at the quality of the imagery and the language used and the things that she was writing about,” Kenyon said. “It was a sophisticated perspective of a young person and one that I thought used language very beautifully. I got a sense that she understood the mechanics of poetry in a way that made her a really good fit for this position.”

Khullar said that she is constantly trying to expand her poetry horizons by reading different forms and experimenting with her own style. In the future, Khullar plans to attend college, continue to work on her poetry, and eventually publish her own books. In words of advice to those who look up to her, Khullar said to read constantly.

“The biggest piece of advice I have is really just to read constantly. It doesn’t have to be super academic. Of course, I’ve read classic novels, but I’m reading Twilight right now and I’m having such a good time,” Khullar said. “Reading constantly expands your worldview and improves your vocabulary. Reading is the best thing you can do for your writing and your mental health.”