National Youth Poet Laureate Alyssa Gaines Breaks Down the Realities for Young Women in a Post-Roe World

National Youth Poet Laureate Alyssa Gaines reads at the Indianapolis Public Library’s annual Fall Fest 2019. (Indianapolis Public Library / Youtube)

Young people are stepping up in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade. According to a 2022 Pew Research study, young adults are more likely than older adults to support legal abortion—with 74 percent of people under 30 saying it should be legal. Young people are taking to the streets to protest, lobbying their elected officials and taking to activism in droves to make abortion accessible for those who need it. 

National Youth Poet Laureate Alyssa Gaines is using her writing to affirm the need for abortion care and to reach those most impacted by anti-choice legislation. 

Steph Black: Tell me a little about yourself. How does one become a National Youth Poet Laureate? What brought you down that path?

Alyssa Gaines: I’m Alyssa Gaines. I’m 18 years old. I’m from the East Side of Indianapolis and in the fall I’ll be relocating to Cambridge, Mass. for college. I started writing in third grade when my parents started taking me to youth poetry slam events around the city and workshops. I got to compete at slay with the Americas at the Library of Congress when I was 13. It was the biggest audience I’d ever performed in front of and I got a standing ovation, perfect score, all the things that that you hope to get when you’re doing slam poetry. It was that moment that really landed for me all the power and all that I could do with my words through poetry and the voice that it gave me.

I got involved with different organizations around the city. Through these organizations, I strengthened my technical skills. I was named the local Youth Poet Laureate for Indianapolis, and then recently the Regional Youth Poet Laureate for the Midwest, competing against other local laureates and then competing against the regional laureates. I became the National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States.

Black: That’s really cool. So, tell me a little bit about the kinds of things you are writing poetry about and what you’re performing about.

Gaines: A few things are very important to me: the connection between location and identity, so I always introduce myself and say where I’m from. I’m from the East Side of Indianapolis and through growing up here there have been so many things that I’ve learned. This communal experience of grief. We all collectively wrestle with gun violence, and so I talk a lot about grief and healing, community, gun violence, womanhood and gender. Especially now with this conversation about choice, these things are coming to the forefront of discussion again.

Black: Tell me a little bit more about why this recent Supreme Court case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health and the overturning of Roe v. Wade, is affecting you and how you see it affecting other young folks your age. 

Gaines: As a young woman from the state of Indiana, our governor has expressed, “We’re a pro-life state.” It means that there’s this obligation placed on my body and my decisions that directly affect me first. I’m also concerned about the privacy issue. If state governments are deciding to ban certain reproductive actions like abortion, well, how does the government find out if you’ve taken steps toward those actions? 

As a poet, I’m challenged to look at the complications and nuances of this discussion, flush them out and then share that with my community and the people around me through my work.

As a poet, I’m challenged to look at the complications and nuances of this discussion, flush them out and then share that with my community and the people around me through my work.

Black: How has your poetry been influenced by this?

Gaines: I’m exploring even more nuanced gender, religion, intersections with capital and race, and also considering the role that location plays in impacting our perspective. These are topics that I’m generally interested in, in my writing, but I’m approaching them through a new lens with a new goal.

Black: What is that goal?

Gaines: The goal, when I’m thinking of this current discussion of women’s reproductive rights, is to highlight and amplify the voices of the people who are most affected, and also reach across to the people who are polarized or people who may not share my understanding of the issue. It’s my responsibility to reach out and try to connect to those people instead of just writing them off.

Black: Have you been able to connect with people on the other side of the divide?

Gaines: Even before this decision, like at my school growing up in Indianapolis, there are a lot of people who don’t see the issue the way that I do, and outside of the classroom, we’re having these conversations. Now it’s my job to write it down. When I’m reaching this understanding with my peers and the people that are my neighbors and my community members, now I’m considering, how can I put that into a piece of work?

It’s my responsibility to reach out and try to connect to those people instead of just writing them off.

Black: It sounds like you’re using your poetry to process a lot. Is there anything that’s been bringing you hope or joy lately? Tell me a little bit about how you’re taking care of yourself. 

Gaines: At times like this where, you know, everything is amplified through social media, where there’s crisis after crisis, it’s hard to write sometimes. You’re dealing with the crisis of each moment or the tragedy of each day. Going through these bouts, where I’m trying to figure out how can I write down and work out how I feel, seeing other young people who choose to be resilient and to keep fighting really brings me a lot of hope. Writers who choose to keep writing. It excites me and I see the issue attacked from different angles. I see people reaching out and connecting and staying grounded in their community. And so I feel hope that I can do the same. You know, no matter the ruling, no matter the legislation, I know that there’s always going to be a community around me. There’s always going to be joy in that community and poems that I can write about my experiences.

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.

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Steph Black is a Jewish activist and writer based in D.C. where she fights to expand abortion access and reproductive justice. She writes newsletters, funds abortion, clinic escorts. Read her writing, follow her work, and subscribe at her website, All typos in her work can be attributed to her cat, Goose.