National Student Poets Choose 5 Books Every High Schooler Should Read

The National Student Poets are a group of five high school juniors and seniors who act as literary ambassadors for a year. In honor of National Poetry Month, they recommend five books for their fellow high schoolers.

The National Student Poets are a group of five high school juniors and seniors who act as literary ambassadors for a year, each representing a different region of the United States. The program was started by Michelle Obama and the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities in 2012 and is now run as a collaboration of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Selected through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and appointed by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in August, the teens host events, workshops, and community service projects around the country where they promote the reading, writing, and appreciation of poetry.

National Student Poets
The National Student Poets. From left: Ariana Smith, Heather Laurel Jensen, Alexandra Contreras-Montesano, Darius Atefat-Peckham, and Daniel Blokh. Photo by Shannon Finney.

As National Poetry Month comes to a close, here are five collections sure to interest high school students all year round, chosen by high schoolers themselves.


The BreakBeat Poets coverCoval, Kevin, Quraysh Ali Lansana, & Nate Marshall, eds. The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop. Haymarket. 2015.

“This book is, first of all, big. In reading it, you are exposed to so many different kinds of poetry and perspectives. It’s also big enough that there is some form of poem in it for everyone. The book also is important sociopolitically; it explains what it’s like to be black or a person of color in today’s America, reflecting the experiences that every high schooler should at the very least be aware of.”—Heather Laurel Jensen, 17. Region: Southwest

Book of Delights coverGay, Ross. The Book of Delights. Algonquin. 2019.

“I’ve always believed that good art, first and foremost, makes you feel something. Great art, I think, makes you feel everything (or as much as it possibly can). Ross Gay's Book of Delights showcases this emotional complexity, exploring the ‘concurrence’ of joy and sorrow, of our collective joys and sorrows—this ultimate delight. I've taught portions of this book in almost every high school class I've visited this year, and their wonderful takeaways and observations prove to me all the more that the writing of delight is timely, necessary, and worthwhile.” —Darius Atefat-Peckham, 18. Region: Midwest


Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude coverGay, Ross. Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude. University of Pittsburgh. 2015.

“I bought this book at the recommendation of fellow poet Darius Atefat-Peckham and fell in love with its strikingly attentive observations, its constantly surprising connections between images, and its charming poetic voice. Ultimately, what makes Catalog feel unique to me is the rare sense of wonder which Gay channels, a joy which never feels sappy or oversimplified, but is instead strengthened due to its complexity. This is an approachable and accessible collection for teens to pick up, and yet one that will leave readers experiencing the world in a new way after they set it down.”—Daniel Blokh, 17. Region: Southeast

Black Movie coverSmith, Danez. Black Movie. Button Poetry.  2015.

Black Movie is one of my favorite collections of poetry and inspires me as a writer, because of Danez Smith's poetic reclamation of cinema by creating a mirror for Black people and images that represent the beauty of Blackness. The poems in this collection reflect on the experiences of Black America by looking through the lens of Black cinema and Black representation in cinema. Film is a medium that promises visibility yet rarely represents Black people, we as Black viewers know, and this collection speaks to that and is sure to inspire high school students who want not only positive but real representation in media.”—Ariana Smith, 17. Region: West


Blood Dazzler coverSmith, Patricia. Blood Dazzler. Coffee House. 2018.

“Reading this book of poetry the first time made me cry. It is genius in its writing, but it is also essential in its subject. The deeper topics of Hurricane Katrina are not something everyone in this country knows about. This book beautifully rehumanizes people and should change everyone's worldview. High schoolers especially should be exposed to activist poetry of this kind.”—Alexandra Contreras-Montesano, 18. Region: Northeast

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Katy Hershberger
Katy Hershberger ( is the senior editor for YA at School Library Journal.
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