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Announcing the First Philadelphia Poet Laureate: Sonia Sanchez
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter announced a new Poet Laureate program earlier this spring, going on to create a committee to consider candidates. The city has now officially selected Sonia Sanchez, who has lived in Philadelphia since 1976 (“I like to tell people it was 1776,” she joked), as the city’s first Poet Laureate. More from Philly.com:
Contacted at home in West Philadelphia, Sanchez said she had already fielded congratulations from fellow writers Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison.
“People are saying, ‘This makes sense, because people have been calling you the unofficial poet laureate for years,'” Sanchez said. “And I say, ‘Well, the people are always way ahead of the government.'”
In an official statement, Nutter said he was “extremely excited” by the selection: “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.”
As for the role’s duties, and reactions to the selection:
Sanchez’ first duty as poet laureate will be to read a poem at Nutter’s second inaugural on Jan. 2. She will also select a youth poet laureate, whose term begins in July; she will be that poet’s mentor. She will also engage in a variety of civic and community functions.
When her term is up in late 2013, “the position will become competitive,” in Baylson’s words, “although the details haven’t been hashed out quite yet.”
Reaction in the poetic community was uniformly delight. Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon, a poet and associate professor of urban theater at Temple and former teaching assistant of Sanchez’s, said, “Sonia has always been an icon in the city, and I’m glad the city recognizes the treasure she is. It’s a remarkably good choice and may help raise our profile as a literary center.”
“That Philadelphia has taken this step, declaring the importance of poetry to civic life and polity, makes me very happy,” said Al Filreis, professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania and faculty director of Kelly Writers House who is also a member of the selection committee. “I’ve lived in the city for 26 years now and have never felt our poetry to be as diversely alive as it is now.”