OSU Poet Laureate Shines Alameda Light

Courtesy photo

Imani Diltz, 17, performs at the Youth Speaks Poetry Slam, which she won.

Imani Diltz, 17, has been writing for as many years as she can remember. As she matured as a person and a writer, she realized that, "I write from a place of urgency." Politics and social causes have seized her attention, and she can’t not write about them. This sense of urgency, coupled with a profoundly eloquent delivery, made Diltz a natural at poetry slams. And the result?

"I’m the grand-slam champion," she said, referring to the Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam finals held March 21 at the Nourse Auditorium in San Francisco. One of 17 finalists, Diltz took the top slot in a final spoken-word showdown. She will accompany four other local teens from the same competition to Atlanta this summer for the Brave New Voices slam.

She got to Nourse Auditorium after months of writing and revising, under the guidance of her teacher and mentor, Alamedan Kate Schatz, head of the Literary Arts department at Oakland School of the Arts.

Diltz entered the competition, winning the preliminary round, two rounds of semi-finals and two rounds of finals. "Slams are a combination of theater and performance and poetry," Diltz said, and it’s as much about how you say it as what you have to say.

Diltz has written about, "the dehumanization of black and brown people [and] transgender, violence toward people of color. Every 28 hours a black person is killed — how can I not write about that?"

Although she takes her work very seriously, Diltz also says, "Poetry is really self-indulgent." It’s easy to forget about the larger world and focus on small things.

Writing is "a platform to wrestle between two things, to try to figure things out, a midpoint between [me and] the rest of the world. It’s bigger than myself. If I have this platform, I should say something important. Art is a form of social action."

Diltz, an Alameda resident, has been a student at Oakland School of the Arts since sixth grade. She is a scant few weeks from graduation now and looking at her future.

"I’m trying to go to art school in Chicago. It’s really expensive." She wants to earn a bachelor’s of fine arts in creative writing and performance. "I believe it will happen. I want it too badly for it not to happen."

No matter where Diltz ends up, poetry will be a part of her life. "Writing has always been a good thing," she said.

To see and hear some of Imani Diltz’ work, search for her on YouTube, or follow the links with this story on www.alamedasun.com.


Julia Park Tracey, Alameda’s Poet Laureate, is writing a series of articles during National Poetry Month (April) to illustrate why poetry matters today. Contact her at julia.editrix@gmail.com or find her online at www.juliaparktracey.com.