Meet Oakland’s New Youth Poet Laureate

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf presents Tova Ricardo with a $5 thousand check and the title of Oakland Youth Poet Laureate (Cy Musiker)

Oakland has a new Youth Poet Laureate.

She is Tova Ricardo, a 16 year old junior at the Bentley School in Lafayette. Ricardo was selected Saturday evening after a reading at Pro-Arts Gallery in Oakland across from Oakland City Hall.

Ricardo was one of seven semi-finalists at the reading, one of the opening events for Oakland’s Beast Literary Crawl. The room was packed with more than a hundred family members and poetry lovers as Ricardo and fellow Oakland teens read and chanted angry and jubilant poems about such themes as family, immigration, and how black lives matter.

16 year old Litzy Castillo, a student at MetWest High School, thrills the crowd with her poem
16 year old Litzy Castillo, a student at MetWest High School, thrills the crowd with her poem (Cy Musiker)

The youth poet laureate program, begun in 2012, is sponsored by the writing training organization Youth Speaks and the Oakland Public Library.

Ricardo read a poem that was a tribute to her grandfather, a Korean war veteran, and his tiger tattoo.

“I thought of the tiger tattoo that flaunted its paws across the forearms of bronze steel muscles that replicated scribbly lines to the six year old instead of contorted rivers,” Ricardo read. “The tiger tattoo who belonged to the southern rugged fields of southern rugged men that roared as a distraction at the family dining table as the seven year old spilled the rice and beans in the midst of admiring the ancient artwork.”

Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf presented Ricardo with a scholarship check for $5,000.

Ericson Amaya reading his poem about immigration, "Harriet Tubman was our first coyote."
Ericson Amaya reading his poem about immigration, “Harriet Tubman was our first coyote.” (Cy Musiker)


“Poetry has been the one thing that has kept me sane on this crazy crazy planet,” Ricardo, the winning poet, said in a brief acceptance speech. “And I just want us, the youth, to just change this world, to go out there and fight this crazy, crazy system that’s trying to knock all of us down and just speak our truth, because that’s the only thing that’s going to save us. We’re going to save us.”

Ricardo’s writing teacher, Peter Hagen, was at the ceremony. Hagen said Ricardo had only taken his class once before becoming earning the title. “She just ripped the doors off,” Hagen said.

Other youth poets performed their works alongside Ricardo. 18 year old Emerson Amaya, a student at Coliseum College Prep Academy, read a poem that he described as being about “the black brown unity that Oakland really needs.”

“The most powerful thing is when we have young folks together sharing space and telling stories,” Youth Speaks Teaching Artist Gabriel Cortez said. Cortez who emceed the reading.

Ricardo takes over youth poet laureate duties from the 2014 laureate Sophie Elkin, a student at Oakland School for the Arts.

The Oakland Public Library and Youth Speaks will schedule more readings for Ricardo this coming year at schools and senior centers.

Meet Oakland’s New Youth Poet Laureate 20 July,2015Cy Musiker

  • sugarwer765

    Power Read kqed article < w­­­w­­­w.­­­­N­e­t­C­a­s­h­­­9­­.­­­C­­­o­­­m

  • Lynnew73

    Why is a student from Lafayette (Contra Costa County) winning an award in Oakland/Alameda County? Surely there are talented kids in this community deserving of the accolades and award…

    • HardlyStrictlyBagels

      She lives in Oakland, goes to school in Lafayette

    • Adrienne

      She lives in Oakland and went to elementary/middle school in Oakland


Cy Musiker

Cy Musiker co-hosts The Do List and covers the arts for KQED News and The California Report.  He loves live performance, especially great theater, jazz, roots music, anything by Mahler. Cy has an MJ from UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism, and got his BA from Hampshire College. His work has been recognized by the Society for Professional Journalists with their Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Journalism. When he can, Cy likes to swim in Tomales Bay, run with his dog in the East Bay Hills, and hike the Sierra.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor