Birmingham’s new Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate announced

Published: Thursday, 4th October 2018

Richard O’Brien has been named as the new Birmingham Poet Laureate during a National Poetry Day event held at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Birmingham City University this evening (4 October).

Richard, a lecturer in Shakespeare and Creativity at the University of Birmingham, becomes Poet Laureate for 2018-20, succeeding poet Matt Windle.

Aliyah Begum, 15, from Acocks Green was also announced as the 14th Young Poet Laureate during tonight’s event. Aliyah, a Year 11 pupil at King Edward VI High School, succeeds Nyanda Foday, will hold this title for two years.

During their tenure, both Poet Laureates will produce new poems and work to promote poetry across the city, as part of the scheme run by the Library of Birmingham.

As the city’s 21st Poet Laureate, Richard will act as a poetry ambassador and help raise the profile of poetry across Birmingham. He will be asked to write poetry for special occasions, lead poetry workshops, inspiring others to try their own hand at reading and writing poetry and will mentor the newly-appointed Young Poet Laureate.

Councillor Jayne Francis, Cabinet member for Education, Skills and Culture at Birmingham City Council, said: “Congratulations to both Richard and Aliyah in being named the city’s latest Poet Laureate and Young Poet Laureate.

“Birmingham is home to a wealth of literary talent and our poet laureates have played an important part in promoting poetry for over 20 years, so I’m eager to see what works they produce as our new Poet Laureates.

The Library of Birmingham’s partnership with Writing West Midlands has generated brilliant work from previous laureates, and its profile as a cultural destination will enable Richard and Aliyah to make poetry accessible to people across the city.

“Birmingham libraries have led the way with innovative projects like this, such as Stories from the Web and Book Start, which celebrate language, literature and, of course, poetry.”

Jonathan Davidson, Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands and Chair of the Selection Panel, said: “Selecting the new Birmingham Poet Laureate and Birmingham Young Poet Laureate for 2018-2020 was particularly difficult this year.

“We had an excellent range of applications from some very talented poets. Our two new Poet Laureates will be wonderful ambassadors for the city and have some great ideas for helping people get involved in poetry. We are all really looking forward to working with them over the next two years.”

This year the selection panel included representatives of Birmingham Libraries, Poetry on Loan and the Verve Poetry Festival.

The announcement was made during a special National Poetry Day event, staged as part of the Birmingham Literature Festival, which runs from 4 October until 14 October.

Biography – Richard O’Brien

Richard O’Brien is a Teaching Fellow in Shakespeare and Creativity at the University of Birmingham, where he also studied for an MA and PhD with the Shakespeare Institute.

He is the author of three poetry pamphlets: your own devices (tall-lighthouse, 2009), The Emmores (The Emma Press, 2014) and A Bloody Mess (Dead Ink/Valley Press, 2015). His work has also appeared in various publications including The White Review, Wild Court and The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017 (Eyewear). In 2017 he won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors. Richard’s plays have appeared at The Arcola Theatre (The Selfish Giant, 2016) and in staged readings at the REP and the Old Print Works.

Richard lives in the Jewellery Quarter, where he alternates his academic and creative work with a role as Commissioning Editor for The Emma Press.

Biography – Aliyah Begum

Aliyah Begum is a 15 year-old student from Acocks Green, who has loved writing from a young age, with poems being her favourite. In recent years she has been exploring spoken word poetry through a weekly club at school, and regularly performs at the Poetry Jam open mic night and also performed at The REP theatre.

Aliyah is very excited to take on the role of Young Poet Laureate, and is looking forward to the opportunity to share her poetry, while experiencing and learning from others. As well as poetry, she enjoys spending time with her friends and sisters, helping out with her local Brownies unit, and trying to learn Mandarin.

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