Theresa Lola named young people’s laureate for London

Poet Theresa Lola, named the new young people’s laureate for London, says she hopes to use the role to help the capital’s demonised youth to find confidence in their voice.

The 24-year-old British-Nigerian from Bromley, south London, studied accounting and finance at university before turning to poetry. She is the third young people’s laureate, after Caleb Femi and Momtaza Mehri. The joint winner of the 2018 Brunel international African poetry prize, her debut collection, In Search of Equilibrium was published in February, and was described as breathtaking by author Bernardine Evaristo.

During the one-year post, Lola said she wants to encourage young people to “use the power and the emotion of language to celebrate themselves”.

“It’s easy for us to demonise young people and social media,” she said. “Poetry was instrumental for me, to find my voice and to find my confidence, and hopefully it can do that for other young people too.”

Sales of poetry books have increased over the last three years, hitting an all-time high of £12m in 2018. Two-thirds of poetry buyers are now under 34, with teenage girls and young women identified as the biggest consumers last year. Lola credited the sales boom with a corresponding rise in “bold and unapologetic” young poets finding success – such as 33-year-old Raymond Antrobus and 29-year-old Danez Smith, who won the most recent Ted Hughes prize and Forward prize respectively.

“A lot of young people are seeing that yes, [poetry] is reflective of their experiences and upbringing. They’re getting to understand that [it] exists anywhere. I’m hoping to meet so many different young people and help them see the poetry in their lives,” Lola said.

“London is so important to me, especially for my craft – it’s such an eclectic city. It inspires me to be a form of myself in every poem, I can experiment with form, language – all of those things translate into my work.”

Intended to promote poetry among youth in the capital, the young people’s laureate title was established by writer development agency Spread the Word in 2016. Lola, who was selected by a panel of arts organisations including the Roundhouse, the Barbican, and Apples and Snakes, will work on four residencies around London and a PoetryLab, which aims to nurture talented young poets in the capital.

Spread the Word director Ruth Harrison said: “At a time of political uncertainty, when young people’s lives, concerns and aspirations are often ignored and dismissed, it is vital that their voices are heard by those in power. This is why Theresa Lola is a fantastic choice – she is unafraid to explore difficult subjects, and with her talent and commitment to opening up conversations with young people, she brings to the role a real sense of purpose.”