Hamilton St. Joseph. This is the pen name Anthony Wiles, Jr., created in Middle School to avoid attention or recognition. Uncertain and self-conscious about his writing, Anthony preferred to go unnoticed and blend into the crowd rather than face criticism and ridicule. At this age, Anthony knew he enjoyed writing and often used it as a way to escape the harsh realities of Middle School, but he lacked the confidence or support to recognize his true talents.
In Grade 8, Anthony switched schools and enrolled at Sewickley Academy, a decision he firmly believes changed his life. From the moment he arrived on campus, he said he felt welcomed and accepted, and there was a sense of community he had never before experienced. Anthony shared that his teachers at Sewickley Academy encourage all students to think critically and embrace diverse thoughts and opinions. As someone who spent the last few years trying to blend in, Anthony slowly adjusted to his new environment and began to reveal his impressive writing skills and sharp intellect.
Anthony’s teachers quickly recognized his incredible talent, particularly in writing poetry, and encouraged him to submit his work to the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards, a program offered by the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers. Despite his reservations, Anthony finally agreed to enter the competition in Grade 10 and submitted seven pieces: five poems, a journalism piece, and a personal essay. Much to his surprise, every one of Anthony’s submissions won a Regional Key award, and two poems went on to win National Silver Key awards. His work was so impressive that Anthony was one of 35 students selected as a semifinalist for the National Student Poets Program out of 20,000 submissions. Presented by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the program is the nation’s highest honor for young poets in Grades 10 and 11 creating original work.
The accolades and recognition were overwhelming for Anthony, particularly because this was the first time he publicly shared his work. Then, in August of 2020, Anthony received a phone call so shocking, he refused to believe it. A representative informed him that he would be appointed as one of five National Student Poets, each student representing a different geographic region of the country, and serve in this role for one year. The goal of the program is to empower and amplify teen voices, and it provides a platform to support them. Anthony recalls the surprise and gratitude he experienced after he heard the news. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a prank phone call, and there was no way it was real. But, I’ve been a National Student Poet ever since.”
Over the course of the last year, Anthony has had the opportunity to work with the other National Student Poets on a variety of community service projects and performance and engagement activities, in addition to serving as an ambassador of poetry. While the pandemic has made it difficult to gather in person, the group has participated in many virtual events and hopes to come together in the future. Individually, Anthony will be busy with his community service projects this summer and working closely with the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. He will be teaching a poetry workshop to a group of professional librarians and working with the Teen Reading Lounge.
Most recently, Anthony and the other National Student Poets worked together to write a collaborative poem entitled What the World Needs Now. They read their original poem at the virtual 2021 Scholastic National Ceremony on June 9 as a way to welcome the new class of National Student Poets and celebrate all of the Gold and Silver Key winners of the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Anthony and his fellow student poets were even introduced by the legendary Oprah Winfrey, which was a true honor for Anthony, “The fact that Oprah Winfrey has read my poetry and knows my name is absolutely incredible,” he said.
Although his tenure as a National Student Poet is coming to an end, this is only the beginning for Anthony. He is excited to continue in his mission of “making poetry accessible for everyone” and educating and inspiring others. “I want to show people that poetry isn’t an elite art form that is hard to understand. There's no one way to write a poem. There's not a right way or wrong way. I like to tell people, ‘you have a home in poetry because it's your story and your voice.’ I truly believe poetry can be an intimate and healing space for anyone. It is a space where you can be yourself and you are valued. It’s home.”