Roanoke Youth Poet Laureate Elani Spencer

Elani Spencer

Elani Spencer reading at the National Book Foundation Science + Literature event on April 25, at the Grandin Theatre. Image by Patrick Perkins Photography.

Elani Spencer, our inaugural Youth Poet Laureate was presented to City Council at the evening meeting on Tuesday, February 20. Scroll down for the full archive from her tenure, and check out these quick links to recent hightlights.

Read Elani’s poem, “Star City”
Hear Elani read “Star City” at the 2024 Daisy Art Parade
Read Elani’s poem, “Perennials” (PDF)
Hear Elani reading “Perennials” (YouTube) in the YPL promotional video
Read the Roanoke Times coverage (online article and PDF)
Read the Roanoke Tribune coverage (PDF)
Watch the presentation to City Council (at mark 9:35 in the Facebook video)

Elani Spencer is a 18-year-old, first-year student at Hollins University. She came to Roanoke from Rochester, NY. Elani was named the Roanoke Youth Poet Laureate through a competitive process in the fall of 2023. Learn more about our first Roanoke Youth Poet Laureate in the Q&A below.

Q & A with Elani Spencer

Image of Elani Spencer holding a trophy

What do you like about Roanoke?

I like that Roanoke has the best of both worlds. I can enjoy the city life, but also have access to trails and beautiful nature where I can unwind and ground myself. I’ve been able to conjure a lot of inspiration from the trees, mountains, and wildlife all around me. But I especially like Roanoke because of how incredibly welcoming and nice everyone is. Any of the residents I talk to here have been nothing but kind, and they’re super proud of this city and its people.

What first got you interested in poetry?

I became drawn to poetry in my first year of high school. I took my first official creative writing class, and I was introduced to modern poetry: prose, how-to, abecedarian, ekphrastic, acrostic, golden shovel, etc. These poetry forms spoke to me, and I immediately started experimenting with them in my own writing. But what inspired me to start writing spoken-word poetry was Button Poetry performance videos on YouTube. I started thinking more about not only how the words looked on the page, but how they sounded and flowed together.

What does poetry do for you personally?

Poetry is an outlet for my creativity. I always had an overactive imagination as a kid. You would always find me coming up with these elaborate worlds, turning my kitchen into a dense forest or a treacherous sea. Writing gave me a chance to bring these worlds alive on paper and share them with others. Also, writing became a coping mechanism for me in times of hardship. Anytime my family faced tragedy, or my mental health took a turn, I turned to writing to work out my feelings or make sense of the situation. Somehow being able to put the issue into words made it less scary for me to deal with. And I knew if I could turn pain into art and make suffering into something beautiful, I could survive anything.

How do you think poetry can help us as a community?

Poetry, like any medium of art, can inspire change, create unity, and merge gaps in places where we fall short. I think poetry can help Roanoke live up to its full potential as a beacon of hope in the state of Virginia. There is so much joy in this community, but there is also a lot of violence. I hope through literature we can encourage people to solve problems with love and communication rather than weapons.

Why did you choose Hollins?

I chose Hollins University because it has one of the best creative writing programs in the United States, and I wanted to feel challenged and pushed to become a better writer. Also, I wanted to attend a school with a smaller student population, so I can get one-on-one attention from my professors, and build a personal relationship with them. I knew the connections I would make in college would help me later in my journey. In addition, I knew there would be more resources, internships, and other opportunities available because there is less competition. Lastly, as soon as I stepped onto Hollins campus, I felt extremely welcomed and supported, and I immediately felt like I belonged. Since was moving over eight hours away, it was important to find a college that felt like home, and Hollins did from day one.

How are you getting involved on campus?

I am an editor for Hollins multi-cultural magazine, Gravel. I will be reviewing writing and art submissions in the Spring, and deciding which ones will be included in the magazine. And I will be formatting and preparing the magazine for publication. Also, I am involved in the theater. So far, I have been in the First Year Reading, and this year’s pick was The Seven Loves of Audrey Munson. I played the photographer, the reporter, and was a part of the Ensemble. I was an understudy for Roland in the play Constellations which is a love story taking place in the multi-verse. During J-term, I played Courtney in Randi and Roxanne, a play in the Winter Festival of New Works.

What authors are inspiring you these days?

Some authors who I draw inspiration from are Tomi Adeyemi, Marissa Meyer, Aiden Thomas, V.E. Schwab, Sarah Kay, Ariana Brown, and Danez Smith. They all have such a unique voice, their characters are compelling, their imagery is imaginative, and they all can tuck such complex messages within their stories and poems.

What class did you enjoy in your first semester?

My favorite class fall semester was fundamental writing with Professor Eva Lynch-Comer. I learned a lot more about the writing process and revision, and it really helped me hone my craft. I’ve also been introduced to surrealism which I’m starting to experiment with in my poetry. And the writing workshops have been super helpful and have been teaching me how to take feedback and apply it to my writing in impactful ways.


Inaugural Poem (2/20/24): “Perennials” (PDF) | Video
It’s Here Gallery Talk (2/20/24): “Cities” (PDF) | Video
2024 Daisy Art Parade (4/13/24): “Star City” | Video

Appearances & Press

Follow Elani on the YPL Instagram:

Rhythm and Rhyme Festival (10/21/23) – Video
City Council Meeting (2/20/24, 7 PM) – Watch on Facebook
Hollins University
WVTF / Radio IQ
The Roanoker
Arts Pop at the Taubman Museum of Art with Artemis Journal (3/2/24) On Instagram
WDBJ Black History Month Appearance
The Roanoke Tribune (March 8, 2024) PDF
Elani reading “Perennials” in the YPL promotional video (March 13, 2024)
Melrose Library – Meet the Youth Poet Laureate (March 27, 2024)
Daisy Art Parade (April 13, 2024)
WDBJ Poetry Month Appearance (April 2024)
National Book Foundation Science + Literature event at the Grandin Theatre (April 25, 2024)
Experience Conference, Roanoke, VA – Creating a Vibrant Community through the Arts Panel (May 3, 2024)
Pop Chat with Annette Tarpley

Youth Poet Laureate Request

Our Youth Poet Laureate is also a busy student. She’s out in the community making connections, but she also needs to make the grades! Let us know how you’d like to engage with the poet, and we’ll see what we can do.

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