AUSTIN — On Friday, October 26, at 5:30 p.m., Huston-Tillotson University named student, Earlyssa “Earl the Poet” Cooper, as its first poet laureate. The ceremony took place on the patio of the University’s Downs-Jones Library.
“I’m honestly speechless,” Cooper said of her honor. “I’m a poet who is speechless. Imagine that. I was thinking “Wow, people still see something in myself that I possibly haven’t seen in myself yet and that they know that I’m capable of impacting many in the position that I am now in.”
English Professor Jennine Krueger, also a distinguished poet and one who has most recently served on a panel for a Comic-Con satellite event and as a coach of a national poetry slam team, emceed the event.
In the new role, Cooper will be responsible for serving as a spokespoet for campus events, and she has been charged with spreading poetry around campus and encouraging others to let their voices be heard.
With the backing of over 5,000 followers on her Instagram page, @theheartofearl, not counting the fans who have attended her showcases and the children and their parents who have been inspired by her impromptu poems on the back of receipts and H-E-Buddy Bucks, the poet laureate title only affirms the talent of the junior – communications major – from Houston, Texas.
“Never put down your pen,” Ms. Eunice Terry emphasized. Terry was Cooper’s fourth-grade teacher who inspired her to keep writing and speaking. Terry was at the induction ceremony on Friday to witness her student receive the honor.
“That statement (of Terry) has been motivation since I left Lantern Lane Elementary School,” Cooper said. “To know this, to know a teacher planted a seed in me, I have to reach back and bring up her name often as I can, so we can understand the importance of educators and, if she never told me, I may not have ever known the poetry power inside of me. That’s why I have never put down my pen.”
Cooper’s mom also inspired her to write. Her mom would have Cooper and her siblings write a certain amount of prompts and read a certain amount of books weekly.
“We weren’t allowed to use a pencil because her kids don’t make mistakes, so whenever I write now, I don’t write if I have the intent to erase. I credit all of my success to my mom because if it weren’t for her, I would have never gotten to Lantern Lane. Ms. Terry was the one who confirmed what my mom had already seen in me.”
Friday’s ceremony will feature Cooper delivering one of her many powerful pieces.
Cooper estimates that she has written over 800 poems since early grade school but only can show proof of 300; it is because she leaves behind many of her poems to inspire whoever picks up the poems.
“It depends on what the spirit tells me because sometimes, I’d leave my poem because it is not for me. It was never for me. I would just leave it in a random place to inspire someone else.”
Local spots like Mozart’s Coffee Roasters have been home to an anonymous poem left behind by Cooper. Then, there were many instances as a cashier at a local H-E-B grocery store where Cooper encountered a child who inspired Cooper to write a poem. She shared one encounter with a mom and daughter.
“Her daughter had just come out, and the daughter thought her mom would be ashamed, but her mother instead embraced her even more, so I wrote a really quick poem on the back of a Buddy Buck (H-E-B paper bucks resembling money given to children for a chance to win a prize). Just the chills that I got, I can relate the chills back to her through my words, just not vocally.”
Cooper was able to locate an extra Buddy Buck poem.
It read, “She was eight, the year she birthed her first insecurity. Came home and asked her mom what a uni-brow was. And when mom responded, ‘It’s something that pretty girls had,’ she then asked, ‘Why am I the only one in my class with one?’ Do you remember the moment you realized that YOU were different?”
A cliffhanger typically ends Cooper’s poems to provoke thought. Usually, after Cooper’s public showcases of poetry end, fans flock to the stage to offer their reactions to the thought-provoking poems performed on stage, or if on Instagram, comments fill her video posts.
“Wow, Earl, you touched on my situation. Wow, Earl, you said something I would not have had the courage to say. Wow, Earl, you said something that people usually don’t speak on.” These are just a few reactions.
Cooper said that people want to stay liked by everyone, so to touch on certain topics, one, you have to be willing to be transparent, and two, you have to be willing to get people uncomfortable; uncomfortable brings change, uncomfortable brings awareness, uncomfortable shines light into darkness.
“Poetry is the outlet for a better life,” she added. “I’ve always used my pen to escape reality. You can write your way into a better life. You can write your way into a better day. You can write your way into a better mood. That is important to remember, that the power of the pen can ultimately change the way that we think.”
Cooper has shared the “power of the pen” through her organization, “Pain Behind the Pen,” with local young victims of substance abuse, homelessness, and mental illness through LifeWorks of Austin. She courageously shared even her story of childhood sexual assault and mental illness, challenges of which she has been very outspoken via her Instagram page.
Cooper’s poetry platform is to empower women and mental illness advocacy.
“I know that there is another little Earl. I know that there is another girl about to give up. I know someone can hear my story and cling to it, fight, wake up, and do it all over again.”
Every day that Cooper wakes, she said that she is a woman who asks, “’What can I do to uplift someone else today,’ and it always happens to be through words.”
Cooper hopes to release a book by year’s end called “The Reflection of Your Soul,” a compilation of Cooper’s interviews of over 200 anonymous women (including Cooper’s story), sharing their story of domestic violence, homelessness, being a military baby, being silenced, all together a reflection of their souls.
At the end of Friday’s event, Cooper had a simple but powerful statement.
“My legacy starts today.”