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At just 14 years old, Alora Young is already the 2021 Youth Poet Laureate for the Southern United States. Her first book, Walking Gentry Home, traces the movement of her ancestors, Black women whose lives were affected by systemic racism and poverty.

While including her family’s experience with slavery, Young’s debut book is written as a memoir in verse.  Her book recounts nine generations of women in the Young family. 

In an interview with NPR’s Morning Edition, Young said, “I started the book this way because I feel like this is a story that doesn’t have a starting place. For thousands of generations, Black women have existed on this planet and all of the culmination of thousands of women led to me being here.”

Alora Young traces ancestry as Youth Poet Laureate for Southern US

The first of Young’s family to be told in the book is Amy, nine generations back. Amy was enslaved and raped, then forced to carry the child of her enslaver. 

Young’s book recounts stories of all her family members after Amy, including Young’s grandmother, who died when Young was a child. Young knows her grandmother went through hellish experiences as a pregnant teenager in the South during the Civil Rights Movement.

Young, who interviewed family members as far back as she could, also did genealogy research for her book. Meanwhile, she interviewed every living woman relative she has. 

Young was thrilled to make those connections with her family. Of their conversations, Young said, “We had wonderful conversations and honestly, I feel like I’m so much closer to the women in my family now because of this book.”

Tapping into themes like the effects of systemic racism and poverty on her family, Young said, “It’s [about] the brutal realities that my family members faced, and I wanted to make sure their stories were never ever forgotten.” She continued, “I believe that we can use this art form as a tool for education and communication.”

Young’s debut book, Walking Gentry Home: A Memoir of My Foremothers in Verse can be purchased on Amazon and also at Fulton Streets Books and Magic City Books in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Erika Stone is a graduate student in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Oklahoma, and a graduate assistant at Schusterman Library. A Chess Memorial Scholar, she has a B.A. in Psychology...