New York, NY (May 28, 2020)— The Academy of American Poets is pleased to announce its 2020 Poet Laureate Fellows. These 23 individuals have been named poets laureate of states, cities, counties, and the Navajo Nation and positively impact their communities. They will be leading civic poetry programs in their respective communities in the year ahead. They will each receive $50,000 for a combined total of $1.1 million. In addition, the Academy will provide $75,500 to 13 local 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that have agreed to support the fellows’ proposed projects.
"As we face the crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people are turning to poetry for comfort and courage. We are honored and humbled in this moment of great need to fund poets who are talented artists and community organizers, who will most certainly help guide their communities forward," said Jennifer Benka, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets.
Through its Poet 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 this year, awarded the Academy $4.5 million. The award will fund the program in 2020, 2021, and 2022.
"We are gratified to support the Poet Laureate Fellows as they engage their communities around the unprecedented challenges of our moment, making work that provides meaning, brings beauty, and helps us, in Lucille Clifton’s words, ‘sail through this to that,’" said Elizabeth Alexander, poet and President of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
The 2020 Poet Laureate Fellows and the communities they serve are Honey Bell-Bey (Cuyahoga County, OH), Tina Cane (Rhode Island), Tina Chang (Brooklyn, NY), Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills aka the Twin Poets (Delaware), Rosemarie Dombrowski (Phoenix, AZ), Beth Ann Fennelly (Mississippi), Angelo Geter (Rock Hill, SC), Margaret Gibson (Connecticut), Rodney Gomez (McAllen, TX), Elizabeth Jacobson (Santa Fe, NM), Stuart Kestenbaum (Maine), Susan Landgraf (Auburn, WA), Maria Lisella (Queens, NY), Porsha Olayiwola (Boston, MA), Alexandria Peary (New Hampshire), Emmy Pérez (Texas), Mary Ruefle (Vermont), Janice Lobo Sapigao (Santa Clara County, CA), John Warner Smith (Louisiana), Laura Tohe (Navajo Nation), Amie Whittemore (Murfreesboro, TN), and Assétou Xango (Aurora, CO).
Additional information about the 2020 Poet Laureate Fellows and their projects:
Honey Bell-Bey, Poet Laureate of Cuyahoga County, Ohio
Honey Bell-Bey is a poet, writer, educator, and community advocate. She is the founder and director for the Distinguished Gentlemen of Spoken Word, as well as the Poet Laureate of Cuyahoga County, OH. Bell-Bey will launch P.O.E.T. (Power Over Emotional Trauma), a project that engages a collective of Cleveland poets and community-based Poet Educators to give voice to community needs, issues, and social justice concerns. The project will include a series of writing workshops celebrating poetry, healing, and community that will engage community members who do not traditionally see themselves as writers. The project will conclude with a collaborative publication.
Tina Cane, Poet Laureate of Rhode Island
Tina Cane is the author of Once More with Feeling (Veliz Books, 2017). She is the founder and director of Writers-in-the-Schools, Rhode Island, and is the Poet Laureate of Rhode Island. Cane will bring visiting poet workshops and residencies to underserved schools and community centers in Rhode Island. She will also organize and curate a reading series at the RISD Museum and local bookstores, as well as bring her Poetry-in-Motion, RI program to every public school in the state through a broadside poster initiative. In addition, Cane will develop the Youth Poetry Ambassador program she launched in 2017, with Rhode Island Center for the Book, to further engage youth across the state.
Tina Chang, Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, New York
Tina Chang was a finalist for an Asian American Literary Award from the Asian American Writers Workshop for her debut collection Half-Lit Houses (Four Way Books, 2004). She is the Poet Laureate of Brooklyn, NY. Chang will launch and conduct the Brooklyn Poet-in-Residence program in collaboration with the Brooklyn Public Library, which serves 2.6 million residents with free access to information for education, reference, and recreation. The program will provide essential resources, mentorship, workspace, library archives, career development, and the opportunity for lasting civic engagement through workshops, public talks, and collaboration on a National Poetry Month event to a promising Brooklyn-based poet. She will also continue her literacy work in bringing children’s book authors to elementary age children.
Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills (aka the Twin Poets), Poets Laureate of Delaware
Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha and Al Mills comprise the Twin Poets, a spoken word duo, who will be sharing the fellowship. The brothers are Licensed Master Social Workers and serve as the Poets Laureate of Delaware. The Twin Poets will launch Write Now!, an art-based community building and engagement series, including workshops, readings, and service projects focused on youth in communities impacted by gun violence and fellow veterans diagnosed with PTSD. The series will culminate with the Write Now! Poetry Festival.
Rosemarie Dombrowski, Poet Laureate of Phoenix, Arizona
Appointed in December of 2016, Rosemarie Dombrowski is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Phoenix, AZ. Dombrowski will present the Phoenix Poetry Walk, an intersectional, intergenerational, interactive poetry walk that will take place across multiple venues on Historic Grand Ave and feature 50 unique readings by poetry-centric organizations across a six-hour period. The mission of the walk is to inject poetry into the community not only by exposing Phoenicians to all forms of spoken word, but by engaging them in the poetic process via interactive elements like a magnetic poetry wall, poets writing poetry-on-demand for the public, the live installation of a poetic mural, and an after-hours open-mic.
Beth Ann Fennelly, Poet Laureate of Mississippi
Beth Ann Fennelly is the author of three poetry collections, including Unmentionables (W. W. Norton, 2008). She currently serves as Mississippi's fifth Poet Laureate and lives in Oxford, MS. In collaboration with the Ole Miss Alumni Association, Fennelly will host the 2021 Glitterary Festival, a three-day queer literary festival and celebration to be held in Oxford in April 2021. The festival hopes to bring in a dedicated assistant and a web and marketing staff, as well as expand programming for youth.
Angelo Geter, Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, South Carolina
Angelo Geter is a poet and performance artist also known in the spoken word world as "EyeAmBic." A National Poetry Slam champion, Geter is the Director of Campus Programming at Winthrop University and is releasing his debut poetry collection in late 2020. He is the Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, SC. Geter will present the One World Poetry Festival in Rock Hill, a three-day event consisting of workshops, special events, community service, public arts projects, and slam competitions. Geter will also support the creation of a Youth Poet Laureate program in the city.
Margaret Gibson, Poet Laureate of Connecticut
Margaret Gibson is the author of several collections of poetry, including The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices (LSU Press, 1993), a finalist for the National Book Award. Gibson was named the Poet Laureate of Connecticut in 2019. Gibson will host eco-themed poetry readings featuring Connecticut Town Poets Laureate and local poets as well as workshops in designated "Green Poetry Cafes" and in natural settings. Gibson will publish an anthology of Connecticut poetry about the natural world and climate change.
Rodney Gomez, Poet Laureate of McAllen, Texas
Rodney Gomez is the author of Arsenal with Praise Song (Orison Books, 2020) and Geographic Tongue (Pleiades Press, 2020), winner of the Pleiades Press Visual Poetry Series. He works in mobility demand management as Executive Director of Parking and Transportation at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and lives in McAllen, TX, where he serves as Poet Laureate. Gomez will present a high school workshop series to encourage the development of poetry from the border along with a youth anthology that includes poems, writings, and art from students in grades K–12 living in the Rio Grande Valley. A poet laureate website will also be created to serve as a resource for young poets.
Elizabeth Jacobson, Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Elizabeth Jacobson is the author of Not into the Blossoms and Not into the Air (Free Verse Editions/Parlor Press, 2019) which won the New Measure Poetry Prize selected by Marianne Boruch. She is the Reviews Editor for Terrain.org and Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, NM. In collaboration with YouthWorks and Axle Contemporary, Jacobson will support a poetry and visual arts venture for high school teenagers encompassing the study and crafting of poems, graphic design, silk screening, poetry tee-shirts, photography, portraiture, readings, group shows and publication of an anthology. The project will culminate in an exhibition of framed poems and photographs of the teens wearing their poetry tee-shirts at the Santa Fe Community Gallery in spring 2021.
Stuart Kestenbaum, Poet Laureate of Maine
Stuart Kestenbaum is the author of five collections of poems, most recently How to Start Over (Deerbrook Editions, 2019). He was appointed Maine’s Poet Laureate in 2016. Kestenbaum will partner with The Telling Room, a writing center in Portland, Maine that serves youth of diverse backgrounds and abilities, to develop Voices of the Future, a series of podcasts and a radio program featuring the work of young Maine writers.
Susan Landgraf, Poet Laureate of Auburn, Washington
Susan Landgraf is a poet and journalist. She is the author of What We Bury Changes the Ground (Tebot Bach, 2017) and serves as Poet Laureate of Auburn, WA. Landgraf will partner with the Muckleshoot Tribe and Reservation and the City of Auburn to offer poetry workshops at the Tribal School and in the Auburn Public Schools Tribal Programs, as well as for adults and children at the Tribal Center. The project will culminate in a book of participants’ poems, as well as a series of readings on the Reservation, in the City of Auburn, and at the State Capitol.
Maria Lisella, Poet Laureate of Queens, New York
Maria Lisella is the Poet Laureate of Queens, NY and the author of three books of poetry, most recently Thieves in the Family (NYQ Books, 2014). Lisella will host “Writing Your Way Home,” a curated series of readings and writing workshops serving diverse communities of senior citizens in Queens, New York—the current epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. The readings will feature some of today’s leading senior poets and the writing workshops will culminate in public readings to be held throughout the borough.
Porsha Olayiwola, Poet Laureate of Boston, Massachusetts
Porsha Olayiwola is the author of the collection i shimmer sometimes, too (Button Poetry, 2019). An Individual World Poetry Slam Champion and the artistic director at MassLEAP, a literary youth organization, Olayiwola is the current Poet Laureate for the city of Boston. In collaboration with the Haley House, Olayiwola will run a featured reading and workshop series that culminates in an anthology reflecting the current time and space of Boston residents. Olayiwola will also establish the Roxbury Poetry Festival, a day-long event with readings, panels, and performances to be held in the summer of 2021.
Alexandria Peary, Poet Laureate of New Hampshire
Alexandria Peary is the author of four books of poetry, most recently The Water Draft (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019). She is the Poet Laureate of New Hampshire. In collaboration with White Mountains Community College and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Manchester and Souhegan Valley, Peary will be developing mindful poetry writing workshops for child survivors of the opioid crisis in New Hampshire, as well as for the adults who support them in their roles as social service professionals, counselors, and first-responders. She will also establish a youth poetry conference to occur in the more geographically isolated and economically underserved northern region of the state.
Emmy Pérez, Poet Laureate of Texas
Emmy Pérez is the author of With the River on Our Face (University of Arizona Press, 2016). She co-founded the Poets Against Walls collective in 2017 and is Professor of Creative Writing and Associate Director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. In 2019, she was named the Poet Laureate of Texas. In collaboration with LUPE (La Unión del Pueblo Entero), Pérez will facilitate and co-facilitate community-based workshops for youth and adults in the Texas borderlands and help document and amplify the work of Texas B/borderland poets in a digital archive.
Mary Ruefle, Poet Laureate of Vermont
Mary Ruefle is the author of many books of poetry, including Dunce (Wave Books, 2019), finalist for the 2020 Pulitzer Prize and longlisted for the 2019 National Book Award in Poetry. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. Ruefle is the Poet Laureate of Vermont, where she lives in Bennington and teaches in the MFA program at Vermont College. In collaboration with the Vermont Arts Council, Ruefle will personally mail out handwritten poems written by other poets to 1,000 residents of Vermont, randomly chosen from the phonebook.
Janice Lobo Sapigao, Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County, California
Janice Lobo Sapigao is the author of like a solid to a shadow (Timeless, Infinite Light/Nightboat Books, 2017). She is an Assistant Professor of English at Skyline College and the Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County, CA. Sapigao will create a Youth Poet Laureate program for students ages 13 to 19 in Santa Clara County, partnering with local poets, school districts, the county library system, and non-profit arts and media organizations to conduct digital writing and performance workshops for young writers.
John Warner Smith, Poet Laureate of Louisiana
John Warner Smith earned his MFA at the University of New Orleans. He is the author of Muhammad’s Mountain (Lavender Ink, 2018). A Cave Canem fellow, Smith has directed Education’s Next Horizon and teaches English at Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA. He serves as the Poet Laureate of Louisiana. In collaboration with the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and local schools, Smith will conduct youth poetry workshops in four under-resourced parishes in North East Louisiana. Smith is the state’s first African American male Poet Laureate.
Laura Tohe, Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation
Laura Tohe is Sleepy-Rock People clan and born for the Bitter Water People clan. A poet and librettist, she is the author of Tseyí / Deep in the Rock (University of Arizona Press, 2005), which received the Arizona Book Association’s Glyph Award for Best Poetry and Best Book. She is Professor Emerita with Distinction at Arizona State University and the current Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation. Tohe will promote poetry in communities and rural schools on the Navajo Nation through youth writing workshops facilitated by established Diné writers, while continuing to support the writing programs at the Emerging Diné Writers Institute at Navajo Tech University and the Saad Bee Hózhǫ́ at Diné College, and further developing poetry workshops, panel discussions, and poetry readings for high school and college students.
Amie Whittemore, Poet Laureate of Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Amie Whittemore received a BA from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, an MAT from Lewis and Clark College, and an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She is the author of Glass Harvest (Autumn House Press, 2016) and teaches English at Middle Tennessee State University. In collaboration with The Porch and Southern Word, Whittemore will conduct a series of writing workshops, open mics, and school visits culminating in a conference for LGBTQ+ youth in Murfreesboro. She will also support Poetry in the ‘Boro, a local reading series featuring local and regional readers and an open mic.
Assétou Xango, Poet Laureate of Aurora, Colorado
Assétou Xango is a poet and community activist. They are the Poet Laureate of Aurora, CO. Xango will conduct workshops and conversations in Aurora with youth struggling with intersectional identities, including gender, race, and sexual orientation. Additionally, their project will support youth peers and administration, which hopes to make the school environment a more supportive and aware space for all identities and needs.
The Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowships panel included former executive director of the Asian American Writers Workshop Ken Chen; MacArthur Fellow and Director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands Natalie Diaz; former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera; former New York State Poet Marie Howe; former Poet Laureate of Boston Danielle Legros Georges; and National Student Poets Program founder and member of President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities Olivia Morgan. The panel was co-chaired by Nicie Panetta, executive producer and co host of "Fresh," a podcast series in development about the freshman class of the 116th Congress, and 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, informed by the panel and the scope of the projects, were made by the Academy of American Poets.
About the Academy of American Poets
The Academy of American Poets is the nation’s leading champion of poets and poetry with supporters in all fifty states. Founded in 1934, the organization 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; administers the American Poets Prizes; 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. Through its prize program, the organization annually awards more funds to individual poets than any other organization, giving a total of $1,250,000 to more than 200 poets at various stages of their careers. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the Academy launched the #ShelterInPoems initiative, inviting members of the public to select poems of comfort and courage from its online collection to share with others on social media. The initiative culminated in the organization’s first-ever virtual reading, which was watched more than 25,000 times by viewers in more than 40 countries around the world. The Academy is also one of seven national organizations that comprise Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations working to provide resources and funding to the country’s individual poets, writers, and artists who are impacted by the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.