Zoe Dorado ’27 a National Youth Poet Laureate Finalist

Zoe Dorado '27

Earlier this month, Zoe Dorado ’27 traveled to The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C and performed as a National Youth Poet Laureate Finalist. Representing the Western U.S., she took the stage alongside three other finalists and was named the runner up at the end of the evening.

Dorado began her writing journey in her hometown of Castro Valley, California. At Pomona, she plans on majoring in English and is exploring a possible double major.

We spoke to Dorado about her poetry, social activism and time at Pomona so far. Answers have been edited for clarity and length.

How did you start writing poetry?

In my eighth grade English class, we had a spoken word poetry unit. It was inspiring to see poetry spoken aloud because it felt authentic and real and non-pretentious. I felt it was meant to be shared between people, not just be written on a page. It was also cool to see people of color performing who are my age. Usually, it’s adults like Maya Angelou or Audre Lorde, who I love deeply, but it’s cool to see young people given a platform as well.

During the pandemic, I found free online writing workshops, and I started going. Once things started opening up again, I started going to more in-person writing workshops, open mics and poetry slams and was able to find community with people in the Bay Area.

Through the workshops, I learned how writing didn’t have to be a solitary practice. It could be done in community with other people. The workshops gave me the kind of validation you need as a young person who’s trying to navigate what it means to be vulnerable and find power within that vulnerability.

What do you write about?

When I first started writing poetry, I was just a 16-year-old girl with a lot of feelings. As I was given more platforms, I wanted to write about social justice issues and race and gender and gun violence and these very politically charged things, and I think there’s value to that.

In the youth poetry world, a lot of the times when you’re given a platform, people will say, “I want you to perform a poem about being oppressed as a Filipino American.” Writing and sharing those poems helped me feel more connected to my identity but only through the context of hurt, and I want to write beyond this. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into writing about the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. I want to write more about joy, and I want to write more funny stuff. I’m trying to figure out the ways I can write about being human without landing on a conclusive political or social message like “this is how we must solve x issue.”

How are your poetry and social activism related?

I’m hesitant to say that poetry is activism because I don’t think writing a poem and performing it is the same as going to a rally or calling your representatives. The writer Toni Cade Bambara said, “Poetry is a tool to make the revolution irresistible.” I think poetry humanizes people. Especially when there’s a lot of grief in the world, we go into direct action. But we also need to take the time to grieve and sit with ourselves in order to fully show up for ourselves and for the people in and beyond our communities. Poetry gives us space to do that. I don’t think poetry will save the world. But it will help us reckon with it.

That isn’t to say that my poetry isn’t political. The personal is inherently political. As I’ve grown as a writer, I’ve learned that poems shouldn’t provide conclusive answers to a problem. They should instead lead the readers, listeners and poets themselves to ask questions—to examine the world and each other with an unequivocal interest, curiosity and wonder.

How did you decide to come to Pomona, and how has it been?

Pomona carries that same very close-knit energy that I was able to find in the Bay Area poetry world. I liked how strong the community felt.

I liked how a lot of people were into the humanities and the humanities were respected. It doesn’t feel ultra-competitive. I think that’s important when you’re trying to make art with people. Outside of poetry, the music community here is really cool. I’ve been able to meet so many musicians within Pomona and at the five colleges. Everyone just wants to create art together without having an end product.

I took two English classes last semester: Intro to Close Reading with Colleen Rosenfeld and Intro to Chicanx Literature with Stef Torralba. I’m currently taking Intro to Creative Writing Fiction with Jonathan Lethem. Those have been really cool. I love the small class sizes. Everyone’s really brilliant but still really kind and open to dialogue.