The Power of a Poet
Joseph Coelho, award-winning performance poet, playwright and children’s author, has been announced the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022 – 2024.
Coelho was presented with the bespoke silver Laureate medal by outgoing Waterstones Children’s Laureate, Cressida Cowell MBE, at a ceremony held at The Unicorn Theatre, London.
He is the first poet to be Children’s Laureate since Michael Rosen (and also the youngest Children’s Laureate to date).
The Waterstones Children’s Laureate is awarded biannually to a renowned writer or illustrator in recognition of exceptional talent. Managed by BookTrust and sponsored by Waterstones, the role celebrates creativity and storytelling, promotes the vital importance of reading and children’s literature, and champions the right of every child to enjoy a lifetime enriched with books and stories.
At the ceremony, Joseph Coelho announced that his tenure will celebrate the power of poetry, showcase new authors and illustrators to diversify bookshelves and inspire bookmakers of the future, and champion public libraries and the role they play in communities.
He said, ‘Poetry is powerful, it is the medium we turn to at weddings, funerals and new births because it goes beyond mere words, poetry translates the soul. I want to use the prestigious platform of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate to highlight and celebrate the power of poetry. To invite the nation, young and old, to write poems, to become poets. I want to ensure that every child has the opportunity to see themselves in books and as bookmakers through the plethora of new and exciting voices we have coming out of the UK – to diversify bookshelves so that every child can imagine themselves as writers, illustrators and poets. And, finally I want to hug every library, these miraculous institutions where new horizons line the shelves, where minds go to grow. Libraries made me a writer and make communities thrive – I wish to champion the services of these essential launchpads of learning.
I’m trying to connect with and heal my younger self – a self-unable to imagine a future writing and publishing books. Through this work, through the young people and families I am lucky enough to interact with, I’m trying to reach down through time and tell little Joe “You can write, you can be a writer, your voice is valid your words are waiting to be heard.” Because I know that when the youth of today hear that message, he’ll hear it too.’
To deliver Coelho’s ambitions, his Laureateship will focus on three major projects:
– ‘Bookmaker Like You’ will showcase new talent within the industry and spotlight their work, so that children are introduced to a range of creatives that truly reflect everyone in our diverse society, and ensure that every child can see themselves as a bookmaker.
– ‘Poetry Prompts’ will celebrate the power of poetry in all its forms, breaking down the fear often associated with reading and writing to show why poems are for everyone, and the joy that writing, reading and performing poetry can bring.
– Coelho will also champion local libraries, highlighting the vital role they play within the community and inspiring a love of reading in young people, by completing his ‘Library Marathon ’to join a library in every local authority in the UK, and encourage even more people to register with their local library.
In a special interview with Books for Keeps, to be published in our July issue, out later this month, Joseph described how it was a visit to his school by the poet Jean Binta Breeze that first made him realise you could make a career out of poetry. He is passionate about sharing that message, ‘I really want every young person to have the opportunity to see themselves as a writer, illustrator or poet.’
He promises the ‘poetry prompts’ will be designed to gear everyone up about poetry, ‘There’ll be a large online programme as part of this – I don’t think anything like it has been tried before.’
While he’s always been busy promoting performing and promoting poetry in schools, he’s excited about being able to do much more now he’ll have the backing of the Laureate team. ‘I want to go everywhere and do everything!’
Kate Edwards, Chair of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate Steering Group and Chair of the Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2022–24 Judging Panel, said, ‘Nominations for this prestigious role are invited from hundreds of literature, literacy and education organisations across the UK, and we are thrilled to welcome Joseph to the ‘League of Laureates’. His dynamic performance, passionate advocacy and engaging writing – which inspires children of all ages – cemented our choice for the next Waterstones Children’s Laurate, to champion the right of every child to enjoy a lifetime rich in books and stories. The Steering Group is looking forward to working with Joseph over the next two years to reach even more children and communities, following on from the wonderful work of the outgoing Laureate Cressida Cowell MBE. On behalf of the judges, I extend Joseph our warmest congratulations.’