2023-24 Youth Poet Laureate of St. Louis
Jelani Penny – Johnson is a 17 year-old poet who tries to tell stories through his works. His poems carry a musicality of language that has its roots in hip-hop. And a variety of topics from racial inequality to renewed optimism to the beauty of the night can be seen throughout his writing. Jelani hopes to make the reader feel something when they read his poems. If even one person is affected by his poetry, he considers it to be a success.
Jelani draws most of his inspiration not from poets, but from rappers such as Kendrick Lamar, Lupe Fiasco, Black Thought, Nas, and more. And thus, many of his poems contain wordplay, extended metaphors, and inner rhyme schemes. Jelani believes that poems are not what they are about, but how they are about it. So, he uses a stylistic approach when writing.
Jelani’s dream is to be a novelist. He plans to go to college and major in cognitive science to help facilitate his goal. He hopes that as his poetry develops, his prose will also improve, and one day, he’ll have a career that he can fondly look back on.