We are absolutely thrilled to announce that Rena Priest has been appointed 2021-2023 Washington State Poet Laureate by Governor Jay Inslee.

A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Priest will be the first Indigenous poet to assume the role. Priest’s literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with the 2018 American Book Award, and her most recent work is Sublime Subliminal.

The two-year term officially begins April 15, 2021. She will succeed Claudia Castro Luna, the current poet laureate. Prior to Castro Luna the position was held by Tod Marshall (2016-2018), Elizabeth Austen (2014–2016), Kathleen Flenniken (2012–2014), and Sam Green (2007–2009).

“I am incredibly excited and honored to take on this role,” said Priest. “I’m fascinated by the way people come together around poetry. I am always delighted by how they gather in quiet rooms and let themselves be drawn in, lit up, and transformed by the words of other people. It’s a powerful way of connecting.”

The Washington State Poet Laureate program is jointly sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA). Poets laureate work to build awareness and appreciation of poetry — including the state’s legacy of poetry — through public readings, workshops, lectures, and presentations in communities throughout the state.

“The position of Poet Laureate in our state is so much more than ceremonial,” said Humanities Washington CEO Julie Ziegler. “It’s a dedicated outreach position where you meet with thousands of people each year, using poetry and language as a starting point for connection.”

Laureates are selected through an application and panel review process that evaluates candidates’ writing acumen, commitment to reaching diverse communities, and experience promoting poetry.

“The panel was impressed by Rena’s skill and compelling nature of her poetry and work,” said ArtsWA Executive Director Karen Hanan. “She was also chosen for the depth and breadth of her connections to communities and her capacity to further extend those connections through her role as State Poet Laureate.”

Each laureate puts their own unique focus on the position, and Priest will focus on two primary goals during her term: celebrating poetry in Washington’s tribal communities; and using poetry to increase appreciation of the natural world and the threats facing it.

“There are 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington, composed of 140,714 tribal citizens,” said Priest. “I’m sad to say that in the hundreds of poetry readings I’ve attended over the years, I’ve only met a handful of Native poets. I know that this is not because we don’t exist, but because we don’t have the same access to writing communities as people living in cities and towns.”

For the environmental piece, she “hopes to use poetry and story to invite readers to engage in contemplation of how they can help protect the natural world.”

“We are in an important historical moment when science has given us a deadline to make significant changes to heal our planet,” she said. “I want to use poetry as a tool to offer new perspectives and generate enthusiasm for the idea that we can slow and reverse the effects of ecological destruction simply by loving the Earth.”

Priest was drawn to poetry from an early age. Her grandmother published a small chapbook of poetry, and she cites that and Shel Silverstein’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends as “among the finest gifts I’ve ever been given.” And as a child, Priest would lie in bed at night and “whisper pleasing word combinations. It was the best thing I knew how to do. It’s still the best thing I know how to do.”

In addition to winning the American Book Award for Patriarchy Blues, Priest’s latest book is Sublime Subliminal. She has received the Allied Arts Foundation 2020 Professional Poets Award, and residency fellowships from Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Vadon Foundation Fellowship. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a 2019 Jack Straw Writer. Priest’s work can be found in Poetry Northwest, Pontoon Poetry, Verse Daily, Poem-a-Day at Poets.org, and elsewhere. She has taught Comparative Cultural Studies and Contemporary American Issues at Western Washington University and Native American Literature at Northwest Indian College. Priest holds a BA in English from Western Washington University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

“Poetry is a gift,” said Priest. “This is my approach to it and my belief about it: I’m very lucky to have it. We all are.”

your turn?

October 24, 2020

Applications are now being accepted for the position of Washington State Poet Laureate.

The position serves to build awareness and appreciation of poetry through public readings, workshops, and presentations in communities throughout the state.

The new laureate will serve from April 15, 2021-April 14, 2023. The position is sponsored by the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) and Humanities Washington, with the support of Governor Jay Inslee.

To be considered, applicants must meet all eligibility requirements and submit an application online. Applications must be submitted electronically by 5:00 p.m. on December 4, 2020.

Those wishing to apply are encouraged to attend a webinar on Tuesday, October 27, 2020, at 3:00 p.m. or Wednesday, October 28 at 5:00 p.m.

The current poet laureate is the wonderful Claudia Castro Luna (a hard act to follow, as were her predecessors). A Washington State Book Award-nominated poet and creator of Washington Poetic Routes and One River, Many Voices series of readings along the Columbia River, Castro Luna has held hundreds of poetry workshops and readings across Washington State since February 2018. See more on the Washington State Poet Laureate blog.

Is it your turn?

Share what you know

March 18, 2020

Are you an expert or scholar, passionate about a subject, and eager to share your expertise with a wide variety of audiences? If so, Humanities Washington invites you to apply to join the Speakers Bureau.

Speakers are paid for their presentations, which are free, open to the public, and held statewide at the speaker’s convenience in coordination with host venues.

The application deadline is Wednesday, April 8, 2020, so visit the Humanities Washington Become a Speaker page now for more information and a link to the application page.

Cabin Fever Questions

March 16, 2020

For these times of isolation, Humanities Washington offers up a new series, Cabin Fever Questions, available by email or on Facebook or Twitter (not on the Humanities Washington website). They say:

With the right prompts, we believe social distancing can actually heighten social connection.

That’s why in these potentially isolating times,
we’ve created this series designed to encourage you to explore important questions with your family, friends, and roommates. Designed to be explored in-person or online, these questions are rooted in critical thinking, philosophy, and other humanities disciplines.
After all, Netflix only goes so far.

Ask each other the questions below,
or dig even deeper by watching, reading, or listening to the content related to each question.
Want to share your thoughts online?
Join us on Facebook or Twitter.

Cabin Fever Questions #1 are:

  • How do we behave ethically toward our neighbors during a pandemic?
  • What is the difference between loneliness and solitude?
  • How does being online help or hurt your mental health?

Each question is accompanied by one or more links to outside sources that dig deeper into the question.

To subscribe, go to the Humanities Washington website and click on Email List Sign-up at the top of the page.

Poems to Lean On

March 14, 2020

If you, like Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna, are feeling somewhat confused, isolated, and worried in these uncertain times, please share a poem.

From now through Wednesday, April 15, 2020, you are invited to submit a link to a favorite poem (or one of your own) that offers fortitude, hope, resilience, and humor, along with a two- to three-line explanation of what about this particular poem resonates with you.

Read Claudia Castro Luna’s invitation and submit your poem by email to poet@humanities.org.

give some feedback

March 10, 2020

The Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) is asking for your feedback on the Washington State Poet Laureate program.

There are two surveys: one for poets and one for Poet Laureate event organizers. If you are both, they ask that you complete both surveys.

DEADLINE TO SUBMIT RESPONSES: Sunday, March 29, 2020.

another year of Claudia!

December 5, 2019

Humanities Washington and ArtsWA announced this week that Governor Jay Inslee has extended the term of Claudia Castro Luna, the 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate, to January of 2021. This represents a huge commitment on Claudia’s part, for which poets and poetry lovers across Washington can be grateful. Read the full story.

. . . . .
Photo by Timothy Aguero

Passing of the Laurel

January 18, 2018

Washington State has been exceedingly fortunate in our Poets Laureate. Sam Green (2007–2009), Kathleen Flenniken (2012–2014), Elizabeth Austen (2014-2016), and Tod Marshall (2016-2018) have been generous advocates for poetry, tirelessly traveling back and forth across the state to bring the experience of poetry into our lives. They have supported local poetry at every level, and have challenged us to become finer writers and listeners.

They have set a high bar. And now, the laurel will be passed to another accomplished and energetic poet, Claudia Castro Luna, who will serve as Washington State Poet Laureate 2018-2020. On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the official Passing of the Laurel will be held at the Seattle Public Library, Central Library, and will feature readings by Marshall, Castro Luna, former poets laureate and other Pacific Northwest poets. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the program begins at 7:00 p.m.

Show your support for this valuable program and our wonderful poets laureate. The event is free.

The poet laureate is sponsored by Humanities Washington and ArtsWA, with the support of Gov. Jay Inslee. The position is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities Washington.

We are very pleased to share the news that Claudia Castro Luna, a prominent Seattle poet and teacher, has been appointed the fifth Washington State Poet Laureate by Governor Jay Inslee.

Castro Luna fled war-torn El Salvador for the United States at the age of 14 with her family. She went on to earn an MFA in poetry and an MA in urban planning. After working as a K-12 teacher, she became Seattle’s first Civic Poet, a position appointed by the mayor. In that position, Castro Luna won acclaim for her Seattle Poetic Grid, an online interactive map showcasing poems about different locations around the city. The grid even landed her an interview on PBS NewsHour. She is also the author of the poetry chapbook This City and the collection Killing Marías.

Castro Luna’s term will run from February 1, 2018, to January 31, 2020. She will succeed Tod Marshall, the current poet laureate. Prior to Marshall, Elizabeth Austen (2014–2016), Kathleen Flenniken (2012–2014), and Sam Green (2007–2009) held the position.

The Washington State Poet Laureate program is jointly sponsored by Humanities Washington and the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA).

. . . . .
photo bu Timothy Aguero

Poet Laureate two-fer

October 14, 2017

Washington State Poet Laureate Tod Marshall and the Washington 129 anthology will enjoy a full day of poetry in Bellingham on Friday, October 20, 2017.

In the afternoon, Tod will participate in a meet-and-greet at Greene’s Corner, 2208 James Street. Doors open and open mic signup begins at 1:30pm. There will be music and readings from 2:00 to 4:00pm. This event is hosted by poet Betty Scott, musician J.P. Falcon Grady, and Lance & Kristine Bailey, the poetry-loving owners of Greene’s Corner.

Beginning at 7:00pm, Tod will host an evening of readings from Washington 129 at the Mount Baker Theatre Encore Room. Reading their anthology poem as well as new and selected works will be poets Alice Derry, Betty Scott, Daniel Moore, Eric Lochridge, Janette Rosebrook, Jennifer Bullis, J.I. Kleinberg, Luther Allen, Paul Piper, Robert Lashley, Sierra Golden, Susan J. Erickson, and Tess Gallagher. The reading is free and copies of Washington 129 and other titles by the poets will be available for purchase (thanks, Village Books!). This event is sponsored by Humanities Washington and ArtsWA and graciously hosted by the Mount Baker Theatre.

Please join Tod Marshall and friends at one or both of these fine events!

%d bloggers like this: