Personality: Margaret O. Daramola

Spotlight on 21st Poet Laureate of Virginia

2/22/2024, 6 p.m.
Margaret O. Daramola says she is an overachiever. The Hampton University graduate is currently undertaking her master’s in theological studies ...

Margaret O. Daramola says she is an overachiever. The Hampton University graduate is currently undertaking her master’s in theological studies at Harvard Divinity School while also serving as the 21st Poet Laureate of Virginia, which requires her presence and performance at official events.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced his selection of Ms. Daramola in May 2023, and the honor has been followed by opportunities that include a TEDx Talk. In her TEDx speech, “What Can Chameleons Teach Us About Adaptability?,” she discusses resilience, authenticity and adaptability in facing life’s challenges.

“Giving a TEDx Talk was big for me,” Ms. Daramola said. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while.”

Plus, every talk she gives or event in which she performs allows her to promote the art of poetry and reach others through her poems.

The Nigerian-born poet was raised in Switzerland. She says her first exposure to poetry, wasn’t really poetry.

“I think I was first introduced through those quotes you see on social media when I was younger,” Ms. Daramola said, adding that she found them relatable. Eventually, her journaling took on a more poetic form.

In 2015, she shared one of her poems on Facebook. The feedback Ms. Daramola received was positive, so she continued to share her work as spoken word poetry. That helped her peers, who didn’t always understand her passion for poetry, learn to appreciate and connect with her poems.

A champion volleyball player at her high school in Switzerland, Ms. Daramola received a college scholarship and, in 2019, she came to Hampton University to study English and history. She was attracted to Hampton because of its status as a historically black college and university, and its standing as a Division I school.

Black history had always been part of her writing, she said, but being in Virginia allowed her to “feel that history firsthand and understand what I’d only read in textbooks.”

“It was inspiring to attend Hampton University,” Ms. Daramola said, adding that Virginia’s rich history helps shape her poetry.

A collection of her poems make up her first book, “A Pathway Through Survival,” which she self-published in 2021.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who wrote the novel “Half of a Yellow Sun,” was an inspiration for her to publish and to continue to publish her works.

“This book was just so beautiful, it inspired me to produce good literature as well,” Ms. Daramola said.

Ms. Daramola believes poetry can be healing, whether when reading or writing it.

She hopes to publish more and, although she does not have a set career in mind after graduation next year, she knows that it will involve writing.

For now, besides her writing, Ms. Daramola’s school days are filled with classes, assignments and networking events.

She says she tries to get an early start each day to fit in as much as she can, often starting with prayer to get ready for the day and ending with a German berliner, or jelly donut, as a late-night snack.

“I absolutely love sweets,” she said.

She also is also working with the Poetry Society of Virginia on a poet laureate initiative to involve school students in writing poetry.

“Writing poetry requires vulnerability as much as talent,” Ms. Daramola offered as encouragement to aspiring poets. “Don’t be afraid of the scrutiny of others because more people will relate than criticize. Just think about all the people who will be changed by your words.”

Meet a poet who did know it­ —at an early age— and this week’s Personality, Margaret O. Daramola:

Top honor: 21st Poet Laureate of Virginia.

Occupation: Graduate student and poet laureate.

Place of birth: Born in Nigeria; raised in Switzerland.

Where I live now: Boston.

Education: Bachelor’s degree, Hampton University; student in the master’s in theological studies program, Harvard Divinity School at Harvard University.

Being named the 21st Poet Laureate of Virginia means: Having the opportunity to promote the art of poetry in the Commonwealth and beyond. Standing as a testament that all things are possible.

How I learned I was named by Gov. Glenn Youngkin and reaction: I found out through a phone call from his office, and I was very excited.

Length of my tenure: 2023-2025.

Immediate past Poet Laureate of Virginia: Luisa A. Igloria.

When did Virginia establish a state poet laureate position: Dec. 18, 1936.

Role of Poet Laureate of Virginia: The poet laureate is an honorary award. The poet laureate performs at official talks and events.

How Virginia shapes my poetry: Virginia’s rich history shapes my poetry. When I write about black history, specifically, I am inspired by my experiences in Virginia.

How poetry can help people during difficult times: Poetry can be therapeutic. The simple act of writing can be very helpful to people and when they are unable to write, the act of consuming poetry can be healing in nature.

Who I hope to inspire with my position: The next generation of poets and writers.

Where Virginians can engage with my poetry and me: On my website www.maggiedaramola.com and Instagram @Maggie.daramola.

How I start the day: I start my day very early so I can get more done throughout the day.

Three words that best describe me: Ambitious. Creative. Talented.

Best late-night snack: A jelly donut.

I love to: Take long walks by the water, read books, go to the gym, try out new restaurants, and spend quality time with the people who matter.

A quote that inspires me: “Give yourself grace. It’s hard to compete with the imaginary version of yourself.” — Jerlad Watson (friend)

The best thing my parents taught me: My parents taught me the value of education. They have been very supportive throughout the years.

Favorite poet and why: I do not have a favorite poet. I was inspired by a few poets, namely Sophia Thakur a British spoken word poet, Reyna Biddy for her vulnerability and eloquent use of prose, Najwa Zebian and Kwabena Foli.

Book that influenced me the most: “Half of a Yellow Sun,” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because it introduced me to historical fiction.

Next goal: To make the most of my tenure by launching my poet laureate initiative.