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New Denver Youth Poet Laureate believes poetry has power to humanize minorities

There are historically two different Denvers: the white Denver and the real Denver. At least these are the thoughts of the second-ever Denver Youth Poet Laureate Ayla Sullivan.

“To the people that think the world is on fire, welcome,” said Sullivan.


The college sophomore at University of Colorado, Boulder holds a lot of honor along with responsibilities. As Denver’s Poet Laureate Sullivan must serve as a voice for the youth of Denver while carrying on the literary art of poetry which she believes has power to humanize minorities.

“Poetry tells the greatest truth in order to humanize those who consistently have their humanity taken away from them,” Sullivan said.

As the Denver Youth Poet Laureate Sullivan is rewarded with a book deal, a city poetry tour in Denver and a scholarship. Sullivan feels privileged and honored to have received this title and hopes to represent the voice of Denver youth in “the most authentic way possible,” Sullivan said.

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Photo courtesy: Ayla Sullivan. Ayla Sullivan is Denver’s 2017 Youth Poet Laureate.


“It’s very clear to me that historically there’s always been two different Denvers; there’s the white Denver and then there’s the real Denver,” Sullivan said. “I seek to serve the real Denver.”

Beyond Denver Sullivan also finds poetry to be very important to society and to human nature as a whole in the way it allows us to experience different perspectives.

“I believe that poetry changes the way we view each other; poetry is so distinctly human in a way that I think a lot of other art forms aspire to be,” Sullivan said.

Not only does it enable the exchanging of ideas and views, it provides a voice and outlet to be heard to communities that are often shushed and turned away.

“Poetry tells the greatest truth in order to humanize those who consistently have their humanity taken away from them,” Sullivan said.


Sullivan started writing poetry from the young age of eight but did not start competing in slam poetry competitions until age sixteen.

“[I come back to poetry] primarily because of the community that slam affirms and cultivates,” Sullivan said. “I love being in a space that sees me and welcomes me and also in a space where I can hear other voices and voices I would never usually hear.”

Poetry has brought Sullivan to many different places across the country including Minnesota, Philadelphia and San Francisco, and each place has their distinct sounds, according to Sullivan.

Sullivan is excited to work and create material for their new book. However do not expect the book to be entirely positive and lovey-dovey.

“From my book expect lots of blood because my poetry is very vulnerable and it’s very deeply tied to loss and healing through that loss,” Sullivan said.

In addition to being a recognized poet Sullivan, who is working towards a degree in theater and secondary English education, also participates in a large range of activities and organizations on the CU campus including the Black Student Advisory Council for the Chancellor at CU and Queer and Trans People of Color. Sullivan also works for the Gender and Sexuality Center and acts at CU.

“All the organizations that I am in is because they are who I am and that also informs my poetry because I seek to write the things that I am passionate about, that I directly am affected by and relate to because of my experience, because of an experience that never gets written by, or has been written about, and has been burned,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan possesses a lot of intersecting identities, identities that have, of late, been in the news thanks to President Donald Trump.

“To the people that think the world is on fire, welcome, it’s been on fire for hundreds of years and this isn’t new but welcome to the search party for something greater and welcome to the fire fighting station. We need you,” Sullivan said.

Nonetheless Sullivan remains confident that we as a society, and specifically minorities, will survive.

“Already we are seeing so many beautiful demonstrations and beautiful organizations that are combatting this tyranny,” Sullivan said. “And I am terrified but I firmly believe that we will win.”

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