The Academy of American Poets Awards $1.1 Million to 23 Poets Laureate Across the Country

New York, NY (June 3, 2021)— The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce its 2021 Poets Laureate Fellows. These 23 individuals serve as Poets Laureate of states and cities across the U. S. and will be leading public poetry programs in their respective communities in the year ahead. The Fellows will each receive $50,000 (or $25,000 each in the case of the shared Poet Laureate position in Montana) for a combined total of $1.1 million. In addition, the Academy will provide $100,000+ total to 14 local 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that have agreed to support the Fellows’ proposed projects. 

“As we begin emerging from COVID-19 restrictions, poetry, which has provided such comfort these past fifteen months, will continue to be a source of insight. We are honored and humbled to fund poets who are devoted to their own craft and also their community. Poets will most certainly help guide us forward,” said Jennifer Benka, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets.   

Through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, the Academy has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The fellowship program is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which, in January of 2020, awarded the Academy $4.5 million to fund the program. 

“These 23 Poets Laureate Fellows will lead an extraordinary range of public poetry programs,” said Elizabeth Alexander, poet and President of the Mellon Foundation. “We are delighted to support them as they create their own poems, collaborate with other artists, and center poetry in their engagement with communities across our vast country—from urban to rural counties—while we collectively begin to process and reflect on the exceptional crises of the past year." 

The 2021 Poets Laureate Fellows and the communities they serve are Marcus Amaker (Charleston, SC), Semaj Brown (Flint, MI), Roscoe Burnems (Richmond, VA), Aileen Cassinetto (San Mateo County, CA), Leslie Contreras Schwartz (Houston, TX), Magdalena Gómez (Springfield, MA), Georgina Marie Guardado (Lake County, CA), Chasity Gunn (Elgin, IL), Kari Gunter-Seymour (Ohio), Luisa A. Igloria (Virginia), Angela Jackson (Illinois), Dasha Kelly Hamilton (Milwaukee, WI and Wisconsin state), Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker (Montana), Bobby LeFebre (Colorado), Debra Marquart (Iowa), Trapeta B. Mayson (Philadelphia, PA), Anis Mojgani (Oregon), Chelsea Rathburn (Georgia), Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson (San Antonio, TX), Lloyd Schwartz (Somerville, MA), M. Bartley Seigel (Upper Peninsula, MI), and Brian Sonia-Wallace (West Hollywood, CA).

Additional information about the 2021 Poets Laureate Fellows and their projects: 

Marcus Amaker, Poet Laureate of Charleston, South Carolina
Marcus Amaker was named Charleston’s first Poet Laureate in 2016 and is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Birth of All Things (Free Verse Press, 2020). He is also the award-winning graphic designer of national music journal No Depression, an electronic musician, the creator of the Free Verse poetry festival, and a mentor to hundreds of students. Amaker will start a Poets in Schools program in South Carolina, pairing a poet with a school, culminating in the publication of an anthology of poems by participating students. The fellowship will support the poets for their time in the schools, their lesson-planning, and allow for the free distribution of the published anthology to participating schools.

Semaj Brown, Poet Laureate of Flint, Michigan
Semaj Brown is Flint’s first Poet Laureate and the author of Bleeding Fire! Tap the Eternal Spring of Regenerative Light (Broadside Lotus Press/Health Collectors LLC, 2019). In addition to being a poet, Brown is a playwright, Thought Leader, university lecturer, and K–12 curriculum builder/facilitator whose work is an amalgam of the arts and sciences. Brown will develop the interdisciplinary, integrated on-line platform, The Poetry Pod Project (P3), which will utilize Brown’s pedagogy, coined TiSiWiDi (Think it, Say it, Write/Work it, Do it), which integrates music, visual art, performance, and games to enhance literacy and the appreciation of poetry through the listening to, reading, and writing of poetry. P3 will launch the inter-genre seminar, Poetry Letters: Poetry as a 2nd Language, which embraces three continuous, yearlong workshops: Poetry Voices, Poetry Painting, and Poetry Pen Pals. Brown will launch the Poetry Pod Project in collaboration with the Flint Zeta Foundation.

Roscoe Burnems, Poet Laureate of Richmond, VA
Roscoe Burnems is an author, spoken-word artist, TEDx speaker, educator, poetry slam coach, father, husband, founder of the poetry-based art collective The Writer’s Den, and Richmond, Virginia's first Poet Laureate. In his time as a slam poet, he has been a two-time southern regional team finalist, National Poetry Slam Champion, and Season 1 Screen Time Slam Champion. Burnems will commission local youth and adult poets to take part in an interactive, multi-art form experience inspired by murals in Richmond, Virginia. The poets will create, record, and perform ekphrastic work inspired by these murals, which will be part of an interactive, self-guided mural tour. With the help of a local non-profit that brings equitable computer-science education to Richmonders, youth-created QR codes will be featured on the murals that lead to the ekphrastic poem(s). 

Aileen Cassinetto, Poet Laureate of San Mateo County, California
Aileen Cassinetto was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. She is the author of two poetry collections and three chapbooks; the publisher of the independent literary press Paloma Press; and the co-editor of the youth anthology, I Have a Dream: Inaugural Poems for a New Generation. Cassinetto will support a cohort of twenty youth ecopoets selected in collaboration with local librarians and teachers. The ecopoets will participate in a series of workshops and field trips to deepen their understanding of San Mateo County's ecology. Cassinetto also plans to collaborate with the College of San Mateo’s film and digital media departments to document the project. The footage will be used in a short poetry docufilm which will be distributed to and shown at select locations.

Leslie Contreras Schwartz, Poet Laureate of Houston, Texas
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is the Houston Poet Laureate, and her fourth book, Black Dove / Paloma Negra (FlowerSong Press, 2020) was named a finalist for the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for 2020 Best Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. She teaches in the creative writing program at Alma College’s low-residency MFA program. With the guidance of an advisor from the mental health community, Contreras Schwartz will develop a text of writing workshop exercises focused on the practice of mindfulness to manage emotional and mental health challenges; the book will serve as a resource to the general public, as well as for educators and mental health practitioners and the groups they serve. She will also commission two public murals of communal poems created from poetry collected from the Houston community during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Magdalena Gómez, Poet Laureate of Springfield, Massachusetts
Magdalena Gómez was born and raised in the Bronx, New York and is the author of the poetry collection Shameless Woman (Red Sugarcane Press, 2014) and the co-editor of the first multicultural, intergenerational, and multi-genre anthology of its kind: Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis (Skyhorse Publishing, 2012). She is currently a member of the COVID-19 Cultural Impact Commission for the State of Massachusetts. Gómez will support youth poets in Springfield via in-person and virtual workshops in partnership with Springfield City Libraries, which will culminate in virtual and/or in person performances of participants’ original poems to be livestreamed, archived, and distributed for viewing across community access stations around the country in partnership with Amherst Media.

Georgina Marie Guardado, Poet Laureate of Lake County, California
Georgina Marie Guardado was raised and now resides in Lakeport, California where she is the current Lake County Poet Laureate, the first Mexican-American and youngest to serve in this role for the county. As part of the Broken Nose Collective, an annual handmade chapbook exchange, she created her first poetry chapbook, Finding the Roots of Water, in 2018 and her second chapbook, Tree Speak, in 2019. Guardado plans to install poetry boxes, poetry display cases, tiny poetry libraries, and poetry murals in all eighteen communities in Lake County. She also plans to expand the project, with permission and the input of local Native officials and peoples, to the six Native American reservations in the county. To complete the project, Guardado will engage government leaders, local poets, artists, and youth.

Chasity Gunn, Poet Laureate of Elgin, Illinois
Chasity Gunn is a native of northwest Alabama and is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Elgin, Illinois. She is the author of How to Create a World (Chasity Gunn, 2018) and her spoken word has been featured in the Bedlam Theatre’s 10X10 Fest and the Elgin Fringe Festival. She is a professor of English at Elgin Community College. Gunn will launch Sanctuary Poets, a six-week-long poetry seminar that’s inspired by June Jordan’s “Poetry for the People.” Sanctuary Poets seeks to model the inclusive nature of a sanctuary, where people of various backgrounds gather in a central place each week to create a sense of community. The seminar will conclude with a poetry reading featuring visual art, a chapbook, and an audiobook of the poets reading their work. Gunn will launch Sanctuary Poets in collaboration with Atrocious Poets and Hamilton Wings.

Kari Gunter-Seymour, Poet Laureate of Ohio
Kari Gunter-Seymour is the author of A Place So Deep Inside America It Can’t Be Seen (Sheila-Na-Gig Editions, 2020), winner of the 2020 Ohio Poet of the Year Award. As a ninth generation Appalachian, she is the founder/executive director of the Women of Appalachia Project™ (WOAP) and editor of the WOAP anthology series, Women Speak. Gunter-Seymour plans to publish “I Thought I Heard a Cardinal Sing: Ohio’s Appalachian Voices," an anthology that aims to represent and educate about Ohio’s Appalachian population. The anthology will be the first to focus strictly on Ohio-based Appalachian teens and adults and will be distributed for free to all 732 libraries in Ohio, with discounted pricing options available for schools and non-profit organizations. Gunter-Seymour will publish and distribute the anthology in collaboration with Sheila-Na-Gig Editions and the Foundation for Appalachian Ohio.

Luisa A. Igloria, Poet Laureate of Virginia 
Luisa A. Igloria is originally from Baguio, Philippines and is one of two Co-Winners of the 2019 Crab Orchard Poetry Prize for Maps for Migrants and Ghosts (Southern Illinois University Press, 2020). In 2015 she was named the inaugural winner of the Resurgence Prize (UK), the world's first major award for ecopoetry. She teaches in the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University. Igloria plans to update and expand available public information on Virginian poets, in order to more accurately reflect the diversity of poets in this region, including youth poets, poets in the schools, poets in community writing centers, immigrant poets, poets with disabilities, BIPOC poets, LGBTQIA poets, and poets in non-literary professions. The fellowship will also support a series of virtual poetry workshops on themes like civic engagement, social justice, mental health, and more. Igloria will also launch a Young Poets in the Community program.

Angela Jackson, Poet Laureate of Illinois
Angela Jackson is a poet, novelist, and playwright. She is the author of the forthcoming More Than Meat and Raiment: Poems (Northwestern University Press, 2022); It Seems Like a Mighty Long Time (Northwestern University Press, 2015), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize; and And All These Roads Be Luminous: Poems Selected and New (Northwestern University Press, 1998), which was nominated for the National Book Award. Jackson will launch The Ambassadors of Poetry program, which will offer numerous residences to Poet Ambassadors across the state. The Ambassadors will also host residencies at locations such as Veterans’ homes, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, prisons/detention facilities, senior centers, and libraries. Priority will be given to locations in historically underserved areas and to schools and communities with limited arts funding. Jackson will launch the program in collaboration with Saint Benedict the African Parish.

Dasha Kelly Hamilton, Poet Laureate of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Wisconsin state
Dasha Kelly Hamilton is a performance artist and the author of two novels, three poetry collections, four spoken word albums, and one collection of personal vignettes. Her touring production, Makin’ Cake, uniquely engages communities in a forward dialogue on race, class, and equity. Hamilton will create a Milwaukee Youth Poet Laureate program and position, which will be an immersive and divergent approach to youth dialogue, leadership, and literary arts. The inaugural Milwaukee Youth Poet Laureate will be selected through a contest, with finalists advancing to a recognition showcase. The showcase winner will serve as Milwaukee Youth Poet Laureate through their senior year and graduation and earn scholarships for college or seed funding for a business. Hamilton will launch the program and position in collaboration with the Woodland Pattern Book Center.

Melissa Kwasny and M.L. Smoker, Poets Laureate of Montana 
Melissa Kwasny is the author of six books of poetry, including Where Outside the Body is the Soul Today (University of Washington Press, 2017) Pictograph (Milkweed Editions, 2015), and  and The Nine Sense (Milkweed Editions, 2009), as well as a collection of essays, Earth Recitals: Essays on Image and Vision (Lynx House Press, 2013). M.L. Smoker is a member of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana, and she is the former Director of Indian Education for the state of Montana. She is the author of Another Attempt at Rescue (Hanging Loose Press, 2005). Kwasny and Smoker will partner with seven Montana art and historical museums, selecting individual works, writing ekphrastic poems in response, and holding workshops on site at the museums for area youth to learn to write their own ekphrastic poems. The project, which builds on the success of a previous collaboration with the Missoula Art Museum, will culminate in a webinar on ekphrastic poetry through the museums' websites and Humanities Montana's Speakers in the Schools program. Kwasny and Smoker will complete their project in collaboration with the Montana Center for the Book.

Bobby LeFebre, Poet Laureate of Colorado
Bobby LeFebre is an award winning writer, performer, and cultural worker fusing a non-traditional, multi-hyphenated professional identity to imagine new realities, empower communities, and advance arts and culture. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Huffington Post, The Guardian, American Theater Magazine, and NPR and in 2019, he became the youngest and first person of color to be appointed to the position of Colorado’s Poet Laureate in its 100 year history. LeFebre will launch Cuentos de Colorado, an interview and reading series that will feature BIPOC poets from across Colorado in collaboration with Rocky Mountain Public Media. By showcasing a wide variety of geographical locations, poetic styles, and identities, the state will hear directly from voices that they may not have access or proximity to otherwise.  

Debra Marquart, Poet Laureate of Iowa
Debra Marquart is a Distinguished Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Iowa State University and the Senior Editor of Flyway: Journal of Writing & Environment. A memoirist, poet, and performing musician, Marquart is the author of six books, including her newest collection of poetry, Gratitude with Dogs Under Stars: New & Collected Poems (New Rivers Press, 2021) and The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays Between Exile & Belonging (NDSU Press, 2021). Marquart will launch Sounding Our Place, a series of experiential literary events that pair an interest in place, the natural world, and environmental issues with poetry/storytelling, songwriting, and creative writing workshops. The events will be planned around the state of Iowa, with a focus on creating partnerships between young writers from local schools and environmental and conservation organizations. The events are designed to reach communities that don’t generally receive attention in arts programming.

Trapeta B. Mayson, Poet Laureate of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Trapeta B. Mayson was born in Liberia and her family immigrated to the U.S., where she would be raised in Philadelphia, when she was a young girl. In addition to her poetry work, Mayson is a licensed clinical social worker and Chief Program Officer at a community mental health agency. Working in collaboration with the Free Library of Philadelphia, Mayson will continue to develop the Healing Verse Philly Phone Line project, a toll free phone line launched in early 2021 for Philadelphians and others to call and hear a new poem each week (1-855-PoemRx2). The fellowship will support the next two phases of the project, which will include writing workshops and readings with youth and adults in schools, as well as in social service and community settings, and the creation of rain-activated public poetry installations at neighborhood libraries.

Anis Mojgani, Poet Laureate of Oregon
Anis Mojgani was born and raised in New Orleans and is the author of five books of poetry, an opera libretto, and a forthcoming children’s book. A two-time National Poetry Slam Individual Champion and a winner of the international World Cup Poetry Slam, Mojgani serves on the board of Literary Arts. Working in collaboration with Oregon Humanities, Mojgani will create a printed quarterly newspaper that features poetry and art and distribute it across the state. Mojgani will also establish a poetry telephone line which will allow the public to call and hear a weekly recorded poem, and have the option to record a poem of their own and/or their impression of the poem. Lastly, Mojgani will launch a poetry prompt postcard campaign, creating poetry writing opportunities and correspondence between communities across the state, seeking to give specific attention to youth and historically marginalized communities. 

Chelsea Rathburn, Poet Laureate of Georgia
Chelsea Rathburn was born in Jacksonville, Florida and raised in Miami. She is the author of three books of poetry, including Still Life with Mother and Knife (Louisiana State University Press, 2019), winner of the 2020 Eric Hoffer Award in Poetry. She teaches at Mercer University. Rathburn is collaborating with the Georgia Center for the Book and the DeKalb Library Foundation to develop an interactive poetry program called Poetry in the Parks, which will feature poetry trails showcasing short poems by Georgian poets. Each stop on the poetry trails will include a creative prompt for those interested in writing poems of their own, and the trails will be supplemented by free workshops for teens and adults. The Poetry in the Parks trails and supplemental activities will increase awareness of poetry and library services while engaging Georgians in safe and healthy outdoor activities. 

Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson, Poet Laureate of San Antonio, Texas
Andrea “Vocab” Sanderson is an award-winning spoken word artist and San Antonio native who works as a Teaching Artist for Gemini Ink and as an artist-in-residence at the Carver Community Cultural Center. Her debut book is entitled She Lives In Music (Flower Song Press, 2020). She is the first black Poet Laureate of San Antonio. In collaboration with the Carver Community Cultural Center, Sanderson will launch The Echo Project, which will introduce young artists to their community through an oral history project, creative workshops, collaborations with local audio and visual artists, and live performances. The project will connect the young artists with other community members, including elders, historians, leaders, Veteran artists, activists, and educators, with the aim of providing the young artists with perspective, background, and inspiration to create art that speaks directly to their identity and uses the power of storytelling. 

Lloyd Schwartz, Poet Laureate of Somerville, Massachusetts
Lloyd Schwartz was born in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Who’s on First? New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 2021) and Little Kisses (University of Chicago Press, 2017), and in 1994, he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He is the Frederick S. Troy Professor of English Emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Schwartz will continue his projects as Poet Laureate of Somerville, including "Let's Talk About a Poem," a monthly discussion group with Somerville residents, as well as workshops and discussions with Somerville High School students. He will also conduct interviews with poets on Somerville Community Access Television, launch poetry and translation prizes, commission Somerville musicians to set student poems and translations to music, visit nursing homes and assisted living facilities to read poems to the residents, and encourage them to find poetic inspiration in their own experiences. 

M. Bartley Seigel, Poet Laureate of Upper Peninsula, Michigan
M. Bartley Seigel lives in the Keweenaw Peninsula, in Michigan’s western Upper Peninsula, in Ojibwe homelands and Treaty of 1842 territory. He is the author of This Is What They Say (Typecast Publishing, 2013) and founding editor-in-chief of the new poetry letterpress, Simple Machines Magazine, and founding editor emeritus of PANK Magazine. He is an Associate Professor of Creative Writing and the Writing Center Director in the Department of Humanities at Michigan Technological University. In collaboration with regional State public and Tribal high school teachers, Seigel will launch the Upper Peninsula (U.P.) Young Poets Program, which will introduce high school-aged students in Michigan’s underserved, rural Upper Peninsula to the diversity and transformative power of poetry, encourage their own emerging voices, and provide them with a free, college-level writing workshop. Select youth poetry produced in the student workshops will be published and promoted on social media. It will be the only such program serving approximately 14,000 Upper Peninsula State public and Tribal students at the high school level.

Brian Sonia-Wallace, Poet Laureate of West Hollywood, California
Brian Sonia-Wallace was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Culver City, California, and Santiago, Chile. He is a social practice poet whose work straddles the line between literature and community engagement. Brian has written poems for over 10,000 strangers across the country based on their stories since 2012, and is the author of the poetic travel memoir The Poetry of Strangers (HarperCollins, 2020). In collaboration with AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) Health, Sonia-Wallace will expand his Pride Poets project from a small ensemble, which has created custom poems for the public at Pride celebrations for the past two years, to a year-round platform for the LGBTQIA+ literary community. This includes a slate of digital writing workshops, community events, advocacy work, and youth projects that will cater to different sub-communities and foster connections, virtually in quarantine and beyond, within and between intersecting LGBTQIA+ identities.

The 2021 panelists included former Wisconsin Poet Laureate Kimberly Blaeser; Arts for Justice Fellow Mahogany L. Browne; former US Poet Laureate Robert Hass; Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna; National Student Poets Founder Olivia Morgan; and Academy of American Poets Chancellor Emeritus and former Poet Laureate of Connecticut Marilyn Nelson. The panel was co-chaired by Nicie Panetta, former Board chair of the Academy of American Poets; and Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the Academy of American Poets. Final award decisions will be approved and finalized by members of the Academy of American Poets Board of Directors. 

About the Academy of American Poets

Founded in 1934, the Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. The organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization through its prize program, giving a total of $1.25 million to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. The organization also produces Poets.org, the world’s largest publicly funded website for poets and poetry; organizes National Poetry Month; publishes the popular Poem-a-Day series and American Poets magazine; provides award-winning resources to K–12 educators, including the Teach This Poem series; hosts an annual series of poetry readings and special events; and coordinates a national Poetry Coalition working together to promote the value poets bring to our culture.