Young Writers Pen their Way Through the Pandemic

Posted August 16, 2021, 9:37AM
Feelings of loss or loneliness are among the emotions felt during the pandemic, where physical distancing from friends, loved ones and even colleagues has changed how we communicate.

The COVID-19 pandemic threatens not only our physical health, but also our mental and emotional well-being. 

Navigating that side of the pandemic can be tricky. There’s stress from living with extended family, frustration over cancelled plans, and loneliness as we distance ourselves from friends and loved ones.

One group of young adults in Durham, with help from North Carolina Central University, has discovered a healthy way to channel these feelings -- through poetry.

“Just being able to express myself and my point of view is good,” said Gabriel Lyons, 17, a rising high school senior participating in a seven-seminar workshop called Poetry? in a Pandemic?

"Personal pain can be hard to write about at first, but ultimately it helps to be able to put it into words.”

The program was funded through North Carolina Central University’s Advanced Center for COVID-19 Related Disparities (ACCORD) at NCCU. 

"We were looking for a way to communicate health information to young people," said Lisa Paulin, associate professor at NCCU and a member of the ACCORD outreach effort. "This group may not see a newspaper ad or even watch TV."

The researchers connected with Mariah M., who is the poetry program director at Blackspace, a digital makerspace and artist collective in Durham. She saw the potential of poetry as an effective way of reaching youth.

“Poetry and creative writing in general have always been a way to activate your voice, how to understand the world and express yourself in it,” Mariah M. said.

“COVID, in general, has made life very disjointed. While students aren’t the demographic most at risk, they are losing parents, grandparents."

The poetic output will be showcased Aug. 21, during a poetry reading at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. The free performance will take place in conjunction with a community fair sponsored by North Carolina Collaborative for Art and Health.

Poetry will be read from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the event, which promises to be “safe, distanced and family-friendly.” 

Students participating attended online workshops twice a week. They discussed a variety of pandemic-related issues, while honing their poetry skills and grappling with somewhat difficult topics, at times. 

“Mariah helped us put everything together, and she encourages me to think about things differently,” said Chiamaka Emezie, 18, a rising freshman at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

A long-time author of short stories, Emezie admits being somewhat hesitant at the beginning of the poetry workshop. “But I was surprised how easily it came to me,” she said. 

“This has inspired me to write about things in life that are scary,” Emezie explained.

For more information about the Aug. 21 event and to reserve a free ticket to the Poetry? In a Pandemic? performance, visit Eventbrite at




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