TRAVERSE CITY — An Interlochen Arts Academy senior who was forced from her West African home by a civil war has earned the highest national honor for youth poets.
Sojourner Ahebee, 17, spent the first seven years of her life in Cote d'Ivorie, also known as Ivory Coast, before she and her family moved to the United States in an effort to escape the Ivorian Civil War.
Now the effects of that conflict and being displaced from home fuel Ahebee's poetry, and she hopes her words can bring others together.
"Poetry specifically highlights a moment on the page and brings people together in a way nothing else can," Ahebee said.
Ahebee was one of five teen poets selected this year to join the National Student Poets Program, an initiative created in part by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. She and the other national student poets spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. They were recognized at a ceremony on the National Mall and they met first lady Michelle Obama at the White House.
Rachel Goslins, executive director of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, said the work of national student poets demonstrates a promise and creativity beyond their age.
Anne-Marie Oomen, an instructor of creative writing at Interlochen Arts Academy, said global awareness and empathy for people who are displaced permeates Ahebee's work.
"There's a cultural consciousness and a social consciousness about issues of identity," Oomen said. "She's able to create narratives and language that depict that in very rich and lush ways."
Ahebee and the other national student poets will spend a year participating in readings and writing workshops, and community service projects in different regions of the country.
The national student poets also each receive a $5,000 scholarship.
Ahebee wants to study international relations in college. She doesn't know if she'll pursue creative writing professionally, but she said she's been writing poetry so long that it's become a part of her.
"I'm definitely going to continue writing poetry," she said.