By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

As Healdsburg’s first official youth laureate, Michela Pearson has the challenging assignment of getting more of her peers interested in the written word.

The 17-year-old senior at Healdsburg High School leads by example, reading selections of her own poetry, and that of her favorite authors, at monthly events hosted by the Healdsburg Literary Guild.

Michela Pearson, a senior at Healdsburg High School, with her horse, Codi. (ALVIN JORNADA / The Press Democrat)

Such baring of the soul to a room full of strangers would be too much for some people to handle. But not for Pearson, whose other favorite activity is competing on horseback in barrel-racing competitions.

“You’re always pretty much a little nervous,” she said of the coffee-shop confessions. “But once you start reading and you look up, you see people closing their eyes, imagining what you are writing about. You feel they have a certain connection to your writing. I’ve never felt vulnerable.”

John Koetzner, Healdsburg’s laureate (adult version) described Pearson as preternaturally mature for her age. He created the youth program and selected Pearson as its first ambassador.

He cited a line that Pearson read last year that particularly resonated with him. The line, “I have over 500 Facebook friends, but only one came to my birthday party,” is from a poem Pearson penned herself.

Pearson said social media can cause people to feel estranged from others, including from those they’ve friended in cyberspace.

“They’re not actually my friend. They’re just a person I know, or that I’m acquainted with,” Pearson said.

Yes, she said, she has more than 500 Facebook friends, but that’s where the similarities with her poem end.

Pearson has built many close relationships in Healdsburg, where she was born and has always resided. Her plan is to attend college and possibly enter the Peace Corps, before moving back to Healdsburg and opening a youth hostel.

Pearson, whose family owns horses, has ridden since she was a girl. Competing in barrel-racing competitions is an adrenaline rush, she said.

She was hurt in the fifth grade after she was bucked off a horse. But when it comes to riding — or writing — Pearson has learned that it’s best to dust yourself off and keep at it, regardless of whether the crowd appreciates the effort.

(You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or derek.moore@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @deadlinederek.)