Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, Lagnajita Mukhopadhyay, 17, said communication is everything.
Originally from Kolkata, India, Lagnajita started school at the age of two, then moved to Nashville when she was six years old.
“My mom was doing research here and my dad and I wanted to visit,” she said. “Because the education is so intense in India, my parents didn’t want any gaps in my schooling so they put me in school for about a month while we visited.”
Lagnajita said she already knew how to read and write her name in cursive by the time she arrived to kindergarten at Charlotte Park Elementary in west Nashville.
When the visit was nearing a close, she begged her parents to stay in school because she liked it so much, and they agreed to let her stay. She said her father, who was an established journalist in India, called his boss to request an extension to their trip, then finally he made the decision not to return to India.
“I feel like that story, shaped who I am,” she said. “My father was at the high point in his career. So I always think how he sacrificed all of that just for me and what they hoped to be a good education and a good opportunity for me in America.”
Lagnajita said she base a lot of her thought processes, the reason why she does things and her values because of that initial act of sacrifice. She said it also shapes a lot of her writing.
SCHOOL, WRITING, and a LIFE-CHANGING OPPORTUNITY
A senior at Hume Fogg Magnet High School, Lagnajita is interested in most every form of art. This high school student plays five instruments (the guitar, ukulele, mandolin, piano and fiddle) and even has an Indie/Folk EP on iTunes called Orange that was released at the end of last year. She has always loved writing short stories and songs but only recently started writing poetry.
Lagnajita said she loves performing and communicating a message, which she did primarily through songwriting until she came across something she couldn’t fit into a song so she turned it into a poem. There, she found a new avenue of creativity and expression.
“It had been a couple months since I started writing poetry, when the application for the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate contest started last fall,” she said. “At that point, when the application came out I had only written a few poems, but my mom asked me to enter the contest, so I did.”
One of the requirements for the application was to submit three original poems, one of which had to be a spoken word piece. Lagnajita had never thought about spoken word, let alone written one, but she did for the contest and became a finalist.
The finalist performed at State of the Word at Ingram Hall in front of 600 last December. At the end of all the performances, the judges announced that Lagnajita had won, and she became Nashville’s first Youth Poet Laureate.
“When they asked me to say something all I could say was thank you,” she said. “I was honored, but at that moment, I wasn’t comprehending what it all meant, I just knew I won a contest. Looking back on it, this one single thing completely changed my life.”
Lagnajita said before the contest she didn’t realize how many people appreciated the power of words.
“I was in my teenage bubble writing for myself knowing no one would ever read it and then all of sudden, I’m exposed to all these different events and old people and politicians would have to listen to me,” she said with a smile.
Since becoming the Nashville Youth Poet Laureate, Lagnajita has spoken at many events including TedxNashville Salon at Belmont University and the State of Metro and city council meetings. She’s has also had poems published in Nashville Arts Magazine and The Tennessean.
She said he does get paid for writing and performing, but she would do it even if she didn’t.
Along with the exposure, Lagnajita received a book deal through Penmanship Books. She is composing 50 poems for a book of poetry expected to be out for sale to the public at the end of this year.
“My main goal is to try to communicate with people, whether that is through music, through words or any form of anything.”
She said winning the contest opened her up to a world where art is appreciated.
“Everyone that I met really, truly cared, and what makes me happy is that people appreciate, not necessarily what I do, but the art form as a whole.”
“Before I didn’t think to be in the creative arts would going anywhere. I thought I would be a struggling artist on the streets, so what happened over the past few months has completely changed my perspective,” she said.
She said being a youth poet laureate is not just about performing poetry, it is about trying to make a difference in the youth voice.
“It’s not just about fame and being a celebrity, it’s about sacrifice,” she said. “For example, the TEDxNashville Salon event was the same night of the biggest cultural night in the Bengali community, and I was fine with that because that’s a part of the journey. You win some, you lose some.”
Lagnajita said she stays up late writing most nights because when she comes home from school she has homework and other things to get done. She said she doesn’t mind the sacrifice because she doesn’t think the rewards from it would be as worthwhile or as significant if it weren’t for the struggle and the journey behind it.
a CONNECTION with HOME and COMMUNITY
Lagnajita, an only child, said other than her parents, all of her family still lives in India, and they go back to visit every other year.
“Since I still have that physical connection from the place I came from, it impacts me. I learn to see things from so many different perspectives,” she said. “I know I always want to work hard and always want to make it fruitful and worth it that my parents made that sacrifice so many years ago.”
Lagnajita said her parents told her watching her makes them happy.
She said sometimes, as much as she loves family, it can be overbearing and too much at times. She said her parents are really protective over her, but she understands in the end it’s because they care about and want the best for her.
“There is a Bengali community here and we do have a lot of cultural events and other things. I would say the culture as a whole is very grand, bright and colorful. It’s celebratory and joyous,”
She said the culture in India is so rich and one of the biggest values she takes away from it is family.
“A community is a place where you can exchange ideas, be heard and listen. It doesn’t have to be about what you love, it could be about what someone else loves. You can learn something new from them and they can learn something new from you.”
“A community is a place where you can effectively share your ideas as well as listen to others,” she said.
Lagnajita said she’s been a part of many different communities and it feels inclusive and safe.
She said there are places where you can’t freely talk about what you want or places where people don’t understand or want to understand you or listen to you, so being a part of a community to her feels like home.
“I love Nashville as a city, it’s perfect for everything that I want do to,” she said. “There are so many creative people moving here and I already live here so why give that up? And also family – we’re all we’ve got so I want to be here close to them.”
Lagnajita wants to attend Belmont or Vanderbilt for college. She’s decided she wants to double major in communication and English and minor in theater for fun.
“Writing is fun, and yeah, I love singing, but the common thread between everything is communication,” she said.
Along with family and being with other creative people, Lagnajita said another reason she wants to stay in Nashville is because of the connections she’s made.
“Now, I’ve established myself in a couple different places. I know there are people that can count on me and I can count on them,” she said.
Lagnajita said from the beginning, she doesn’t know why but she always loved Nashville.
“There was something here that was keeping me,” she said. “A lot of my friends would talk about how they were ready to move out of town, but I was always the weird one that wanted to stay. It makes me happy that other people are finally catching on and they’re realizing it’s a great place.”
Lagnajita said communicating her message means the most to her right now.
“I don’t think I have just one message,” she said. “My message is whatever I want to say at that time or whatever I think people will understand at that time and that changes one day to the next.”
She said one day she might want to talk about India, the next day she might want to talk about boys.
“When I say ‘message’ it’s what I believe in,” she said.
Although she loves the city, Lagnajita said she thinks Nashville is becoming too small for the amount of people that are coming.
She said the city obviously welcomes new people but things like traffic and affordable housing are some of her concerns as the city grows larger. She said she’s not an expert on public policy, but she suggested more incentives to keep locals from moving away.
“It’s important that people come, but we don’t want people coming in and taking over,” she said. “There are people who have been here their whole lives who aren’t able to afford things anymore and that’s not fair.”
Other concerns of hers are the amount of diversity in the city and fund for the arts.
“So many people move here for the arts, a city like Nashville deserves to have more arts funding,” she said. “It makes me so mad that there’s not enough importance and money put on these art forms when it’s just as impactful.”
Lagnajita said the benefits of arts go from social to economic to feeling safe in a community.
“Art brings people out of bad situations and puts them in good ones. I know so many kids from lower income families that could be doing drugs, but instead they’re writing poetry. It’s things like that. I think art is the very fabric of what we do every day and people don’t realize it. Someone designed the building you’re in and the table that you’re sitting at. It’s everywhere and people don’t put enough importance on that.”
She said anyone considering entering the contest to become the next poet laureate should, because they have nothing to lose and so much more to gain.
According to Southern Word‘s website, The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate is a joint program of the Office of the Mayor, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, Nashville Public Library, Metro Nashville Public Schools, Southern Word, and Urban Word. The Nashville Youth Poet Laureate program aims to identify young writers and leaders who are committed to civic and community engagement, diversity and tolerance, and youth voice across Nashville.
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