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Ray McNiece

Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, 2020-2023

Ray McNiece was born in Cleveland in 1960. He holds a BA in English from Ohio University and a MA from the University of Houston in Texas. 

McNiece is the author of several books, including Breath Burns Away (Red Giant Press, 2019); Love Song for Cleveland (Red Giant Books, 2015), a collaboration with photographer Tim Lachina; New Haiku (Red Giant Press, 2015); Greatest Hits #269 (Puddinghouse Publications, 2008); Our Way of Life (Bottom Dog Press, 2007); Dis—Voices from a Shelter (Fractal Edge Press, 2004); wet sand, raven tracks (deepclevelandpress, 2004); Song That Fathoms Home (Bottom Dog Press, 2003); The Road That Carried Me Here (Bottom Dog Press, 1998); The Bone Orchard Conga (Poetry Alive! Press, 1997); and Dis—Voices from a Shelter (Burning Press, 1989). He also co-edited the anthology America Zen: A Gathering of Poets (Bottom Dog Press, 2004). His book, Dis—Voices from a Shelter, was produced by WGBH TV Boston and aired on PBS affiliates across the country.

In 1994, McNiece started his own educational company, Page to Stage Productions, and has worked as a consultant for Word Forward in Singapore. He has appeared in plays at Ensemble, Dobama, Cleveland Public, and Cleveland Playhouse theaters. He was an original cast member of the improvisational comedy, Flanigan’s Wake, and was the voice of Woody Guthrie in WCPN/NPR’s radio documentary, Hard Travelin’. McNiece is also a rhythm guitarist and singer with the band Tongue-in-Groove. McNiece toured Italy with Lawrence Ferlinghetti and shared a keynote address with Robert Bly at the First Coast Writers Conference. 

McNiece is the recipient of many awards and grants, including the Cleveland Arts Prize Lifetime Achievement Award in 2021; a Creative WorkForce Fellowship from the Cleveland Arts Commission; residencies at the Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Jack Kerouac House; grants from CPAC for the Collinwood Story Project; the Berea Library for the Oral History Project; the Hart Crane Award, among others. He has led two national poetry slam championship teams, and is a three-time Haiku Slam Champion of Cleveland.

McNiece is the writer-in-residence at Ruffing Montessori School and a member of Young Audiences National Arts in Education Teaching Cohort. He works for both the Ohio Arts Council Arts in Education Residency Artist program and the Center for Arts Inspired Learning of Northeast Ohio. He is currently poet laureate of Cleveland Heights through 2023. In 2022, McNiece received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.

Ray McNiece
Photo credit: Herb Aesherman
Laureate Project
Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights, OH

Poet Laureate of Cleveland Heights, OH

In 2022, Ray McNiece was named an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. In collaboration with Heights Arts, McNiece will organize the “Poem for Cleveland Project” and create a mosaic of Cleveland voices through intergenerational and multicultural poetry workshops. These will be monthly community-based workshops established with the help of partner organizations that pair youth poets with elders to tell the story of Cleveland. The workshops will feature prompts of place created by youth poets and serve as a template to be shared virtually by the Center for the Book to help other Ohio communities create similar programs. The project will serve as a bridge between cultures, generations, and neighborhoods. It will conclude with an intergenerational reading and celebration at Cleveland Public Library’s main branch, sponsored by the Center for the Book and Heights Arts. An anthology of the work, Poem for Cleveland, will be published by Red Giant Press.