Fulton County teen named a National Student Poet

A Milton High School senior who writes about family and girlhood was named one of five National Student Poets.

Aanika Eragam, 17, will represent the southeast region when she is appointed to the position in September.

The National Student Poets Program was created by Michelle Obama in 2012 as a way to honor young literary talents. It is now run as a partnership between the Institute of Museum and Library Services and Scholastic’s Alliance for Young Writers.

Five teenagers were selected for 2021. This year, Eragam was chosen alongside young poets from California, Texas, Massachusetts and Illinois.

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Eragam started writing short stories in elementary school and delved into poetry after moving from Michigan to Georgia the summer before her freshman year in high school. It was a pivotal period in her life, and she wrote as a way to process her feelings about leaving her friends and being “tossed into unknown waters.”

“I write about different things,” she said. “The main core of it is that I like to write to heal and to connect and to share stories that wouldn’t otherwise be shared.”

She never knows when inspiration will strike, but said she’s particularly prolific during summer breaks — when she has more time to focus without interruption.

“My writing time is like 2 a.m. That’s when most of the stuff gets done. The house is silent. Everything is quiet. I can be in my mind a little bit,” she said.

Her writing draws on the cultural heritage passed down from her parents, both born in India, as well as what it’s like to grow up as a girl and body image.

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As a National Student Poet, she’ll serve as a literary ambassador and lead a service project, such as holding poetry workshops for other young writers. It also comes with a $5,000 award.

”We are delighted to send these young people out into the world as ambassadors for poetry, for humor, pathos, and resilience, in partnership with museums and libraries. America’s communities need them, now more than ever—and here they come!” said Crosby Kemper, the institute’s director, in a written statement.

Eragam also is the 2021 Atlanta Youth Poet Laureate and edits Milton’s literary magazine.

Poem by Aanika Eragam

Ghazal for Desi Potluck

And in every corner: 80’s bhangra spilling from loudspeakers, lulls

in chatter broken by a rice cooker’s steam whistle. On TV: Home Alone

to quell idle children. They watch, eyes wide, Kevin’s family leave

for the airport without him, wonder what they’d do if alone

at home, or far away. In the living room, the new couple flit in and out

of chatter like fruit flies. Uneasy, even among themselves. Ever the loners.

Ma sees something of herself in the young wife, the way she sniffs her kurti for

the suitcase-sullied scent of home, strokes the bloom of her belly as if glass blown.

This is real tender loving: plates of pulao stacked high for young & old.

Till no belly is left wanting, for Ma insists no one should eat alone.

Picture how this night will end: on the doorstep. Lingering. This evening,

a lifeboat. To take leave is to capsize, but at least no one’s drowning alone.