Philadelphia, December 29, 2011 – Mayor Michael A. Nutter announced that Sonia Sanchez will serve as the inaugural Poet Laureate for the City of Philadelphia’s new Poet Laureate Program beginning in January 2012. Under the direction of the Mayor, a Poet Laureate Governing Committee was formed to designate an official Poet Laureate for the City of Philadelphia and to design a Poet Laureate Program. Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate will serve a two year term and will participate in events including: the Inauguration of the Mayor, spoken word and poetry events at City Hall, guest author events and poetry readings at the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the selection of a Youth Poet Laureate to whom the Poet Laureate will serve as a mentor.
“I am extremely excited and proud to announce that Sonia Sanchez will be the City of Philadelphia’s first Poet Laureate,” said Mayor Nutter. “Poetry is an extraordinary and powerful art form, and our great city is filled with an astonishing array of poets who help us to better understand our lives. Ms. Sanchez exemplifies the role a poet can play in helping to define a city and helping its citizens discover beauty.”
Mayor Nutter first announced the effort to create a Poet Laureate Program in May during Sonia Sanchez Live at City Hall, an event to highlight poetry in Philadelphia that was presented in partnership with Art Sanctuary. The Governing Committee for the Poet Laureate program is chaired by Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy.
“I am proud to be a part of this historic Philadelphia first,” said Gary Steuer. “Having a Poet Laureate acknowledges and showcases Philadelphia as a thriving artistic city. I can think of no one more qualified to be the City’s inaugural Poet Laureate. I am looking forward to working with Ms. Sanchez and the Governing Committee to celebrate poetry by making it part of our civic life.”
Sonia Sanchez is the author of more than eighteen books including Homecoming, We A BaddDDD People, Love Poems, I’ve Been a Women, A Sound Investment and Other Stories, Homegirls and Handgrenades, Under a Soprano Sky, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Does Your House Have Lions?, Like The Singing Coming Off of the Drums, and her most recent Shake Loose My Skin. A recipient of a PEW Fellowship in the arts for 1992-1993, the Langston Hughes Poetry Award for 1999, and the Harper Lee Award for 2004, she is also the Poetry Society of America’s 2001 Robert Frost Medalist and a Ford Freedom Scholar from the Charles H. Wright Museum of African America History. Ms. Sanchez has lectured at more than five-hundred colleges and universities, and is a Sponsor of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Ms. Sanchez said: “What an honor! I accept this position as Poet Laureate of Philadelphia on behalf of the citizens of this wonderful city. I accept this position as Poet Laureate to remind us how poetry makes us remember the best of ourselves and others. How it keeps us constantly confronting the most important question of this twenty-first century: what does it mean to be human?”
The other members of the Poet Laureate Governing Committee are Lorene Cary, Executive Director of Art Sanctuary and Member of the School Reform Commission; Siobhan Reardon, President and Director of the Free Library of Philadelphia; Al Filreis, Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania; Beth Feldman Brandt, poet and Executive Director of the Stockton Rush Bartol Foundation; and Greg Corbin, Founder and Executive Director, Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.
The national Poet Laureate program was launched in 1937 under the guidance of the United States Library of Congress. The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the Library of Congress. A number of other American cities and states have established poet laureate programs, and the Governing Committee will look to these programs for recommendations and best practices.