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A Conversation with National Student Poet De'John Hardges

The National Student Poets Program is the country’s highest honor for young poets (grades 10–11) presenting original work. Five students are selected for one year of service as literary ambassadors, each representing a different geographic region of the country. De'John Hardges, 16, was appointed as a National Student Poet in the White House on October 8, 2015. Hailing from Cleveland, he tells us about his experience as a literary ambassador so far, meeting First Lady Michelle Obama, his poetry influences, and much more. 

Q: How did you learn about the National Student Poets Program and what drove you to submit your work? 
I learned about the National Student Poets Program through the research I did after winning a regional Silver Key for the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. I was wondering what exactly came with winning a National Award for writing through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards, which led me to find out about the National Student Poets Program. Knowing there was more I had to do to make this experience complete, I pushed myself and asked my mentor to help me do it the right way.

Q: In your bio I noticed it says your first poetry class was in the fifth grade. Can you tell me a bit about what you remember from that class and how it impacted you?
I vividly remember learning to engage in deep thought through listening to music, reflecting on it, and then using it as a writing prompt. I think this built my mind to the level of thinking I needed to be at to be able to engage in writing at the level I am at now. This class in elementary school was the first step I took toward officially becoming a writer.

Q: What most influences your poetry?

The world around me influences my writing. I engage with things around me and internalize them to give myself a chance to think about every facet of whatever I'm engaging with. Another big influence is myself—my acquired knowledge, influences and beliefs, which influence my views on topics for my poetry.

Q: As a National Student Poet, you serve as a literary ambassador for the region. What does “literary ambassador” mean to you?

 The term “literary ambassador” to me means a representative for change that intends to only use words. 

Q: If you can share, what are your plans for the region in the next year? 
As a National Student Poet I have an opportunity to bring poetry to my region using an assignment called a Community Service Project. This is still in the planning phase, but I would like my project to be focused on supporting the skill sets of young upcoming artists that want to pursue a career in the arts.

What I hope to accomplish with this is a universal connection that will bring the world together.

Q: First Lady Michelle Obama hosted the first reading of the National Student Poets’ original work. Can you describe that experience to me? How you felt, what your poem is about, etc.? 
Meeting First Lady Michelle Obama was a honor; she's a genuinely kind and comforting person. She made me feel like one of her longtime friends in a matter of minutes. I felt comfortable and kind of important. The piece I read at the White House is entitled “Eternal Strength,” and it's about my grandmother's final contribution to the world. She passed away recently. 

Q: If you had to describe the “power of poetry” in five words, what words would you use? 
Five words: Words Precisely Used For Change 

Q: When you're not writing poetry, what are your other hobbies and interests?
Basketball is a big hobby of mine. I also love to make music, and speaking of music, I'm working on a joint album with a student from my school in our writing department named Shaquiel. It's called "The Price of Freedom." Look out for it! Performing poetry is another hobby of mine—I have a passion for getting on stage and saying words. 

Q: What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I grow up I want to be a writer that performs all over the world just for fun.

Q: What are you most looking forward to right now?

 Right now I'm looking forward to actually starting everything I have planned.

We're looking forward to what De'John has in store for us too. We'll keep you in the loop as community plans move forward.

The Ohio Arts Council is a state agency that funds and supports quality arts experiences to strengthen Ohio communities culturally, educationally, and economically. Connect with the OAC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or visit our website at


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