Houston’s first Poet Laureate

March 5, 2013, by

HPLlogo4eblastsLast year we were lucky enough to feature former U. S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin as part of the Inprint Margarett Root Brown Reading Series. We’ve had 16 Poet Laureates grace the reading series over the last 32 seasons. Before we featured Merwin, we did some research to understand how these laureates are selected and what the responsibilities include. Click here to see what we found.

But just as important as the national poetry scene, is our local one. Houston is fortunate that it is buzzing with thoughtful, talented, and lively poets and now poetry will be honored on a citywide level. Mayor Annise Parker recently announced the establishment of the Houston Poet Laureate Program. We asked Jennifer Schwartz, Program Manager for the Houston Public Library, to give us more information about this new initiative.

Inprint: Can you tell us how the Houston Poet Laureate will be selected? Is there a selection committee and a nomination process?

Jennifer Schwartz (JS): Yes, Mayor Parker and Houston Public Library Director Dr. Rhea Brown Lawson  appointed the Houston Poet Laureate Selection Committee, a group of acclaimed and diverse poets, scholars, and literary experts, to assist in the nomination and selection process: Robin Reagler, Executive Director of Writers in the Schools (WITS), Janet Lowery, Professor and Cullen Chair of English and Creative Writing in the University of St. Thomas Department of English, Rich Levy, Executive Director of Inprint, Joseph Campana, Assistant Professor in the Rice University Department of English, Chitra Divakaruni, Professor in the University of Houston Department of English, Shannon Buggs, Director of Communication in the University of Houston College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences, Diem Jones, Director of Grants at the Houston Arts Alliance, Elizabeth Brown Guillory, Distinguished Professor of Theatre and Associate Provost/Associate Vice President for Academic and Faculty Affairs at Texas Southern University. Jennifer Schwartz, Program Manager of the Houston Public Library, and Minnette Boesel, Mayor’s Assistant for Cultural Affairs of the City of Houston, are the non-voting members of the Committee.

The Houston Poet Laureate Selection Committee will review all applications and select finalists through a scoring process that will take into consideration artistic quality of work samples, resume, other professional accomplishments, and the quality of a required proposed poetry outreach project.  Finalists will be interviewed in person by the committee and the names of the finalists will be forwarded to Mayor Parker and Dr. Lawson for their approval and final selection. The Poet Laureate will be announced in April 2013 to coincide with National Poetry Month.

Mayor ParkerInprint: Many of us know that Mayor Parker is a poet herself, how has that impacted the development of this program?

JS: As a poet herself, Mayor Parker has been such a strong supporter of poetry programs at the Houston Public Library and across the City. Mayor Parker is committed to growing Houston’s reputation as a leader in fine arts, and I know that her commitment was a major factor in this program coming to fruition.

Inprint: What kinds of responsibilities will the Houston Poet Laureate have? Will they be comparable to the poet laureates of other cities?

JS: The Houston Poet Laureate will participate in several community programs including public library programs, civic events, and other community events. Additionally, the Poet Laureate will propose an outreach project that involves sharing the art of poetry with a traditionally underserved audience. Poet Laureates in other cities are generally expected to develop similar projects and make public appearances. In some cases, poet laureates are asked to create a body of work relating to the city.

Inprint: How do you see the establishment of a Houston Poet Laureate Program impacting the city’s literary community?

JS: I hope that it will serve to grow Houston’s literary committee by bringing about a love of poetry and literature to those who may have previously had limited access to poetry and the literary arts.

Inprint: A big thanks Jennifer for this great information. Looking forward to finding out who gets selected as Houston’s first Poet Laureate.

To learn more on the Houston Poet Laureate Program click here. Remember that the deadline for applications and nominations is March 8th.

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