|San Antonio Poet Laureate|
On April 3, 2012 Mayor Julián Castro officially appointed Dr. Carmen Tafolla as San Antonio’s Inaugural Poet Laureate. The ceremony was held in City Council Chambers, which was standing room only with approximately 275 people, culminating a process that the Office of Cultural Affairs and the San Antonio Library began last year. San Antonio became the first major Texas city to appoint a poet laureate.
The appointment will lead to a greater appreciation and understanding of poetry, enhance literacy initiatives, and provide an opportunity to preserve and express our local culture through the written and spoken word and will help achieve the SA2020 goal of turning San Antonio into a renowned creative community. The duties of the San Antonio Poet Laureate will include hosting events to promote poetry and the literary arts in conjunction with organizations such as Gemini Ink and City of San Antonio Departments.
Dr. Carmen Tafolla, San Antonio’s Inaugural Poet Laureate, is an internationally published poet and writer and a native of the city’s West Side barrios. She is the author of more than twenty books, including five books of poetry. Her literary works have appeared in more than 200 journals, anthologies, textbooks, magazines, newspapers, and kindergarten “Big Books.” The tremendous diversity of her writings and her speeches reflect a joyful celebration of community, and an affirmation of individual and cultural strength.
Dr. Tafolla has been involved with a myriad of local arts and cultural organizations as a board member and artist participant and has presented at all of the colleges, universities and school districts in the greater San Antonio region. She is also one of the co-founders of CantoMundo, a national poetry workshop and creative development space for Latino poets. Alex Haley, author of Roots, called Tafolla “a world-class writer”.
In 1999, Dr. Tafolla was awarded the Art of Peace Award for work contributing to peace, justice, and human understanding, and has been recognized by the National Association for Chicano Studies for “giving voice to the peoples and cultures of this land”. She was inducted into the Texas Institute of Letters (TIL) in 1999 in recognition of her outstanding literary achievement and in 2011 became a Councilor of the TIL. Her short story collection, The Holy Tortilla and a Pot of Beans, won the 2009 Tomas Rivera Book Award, and in 2010, she traveled to the Library of Congress to accept the coveted Americas Award from the Consortium for Latin American Studies Programs. Her latest children’s book, Fiesta Babies, was named one of the Top Ten Best Books for Babies by the Fred Rogers Corporation.
Dr. Tafolla has presented her work throughout the U.S. and Mexico as well as in Europe and New Zealand. She has conducted thousands of motivational speeches and poetry workshops throughout the State, the U.S. and the world. Her poetry has been translated into Spanish, German, and Bengali. She is one of only two U.S. Poets invited to participate in the Wellington International Poetry Festival.
Dr. Tafolla holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin in Bilingual Education, and has taught at numerous universities. She currently teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio, where she holds the title of Writer-in-Residence for Children’s, Youth, and Transformative Literature. In this role, she has established the Cuentos y Carino (Bilingual Bedtimes) Project of UTSA to encourage parents to read to their children.
The nomination process opened in November of 2011 and closed on January 17, 2012. Fifteen eligible poets were nominated, including Carmen Tafolla, Terry Lee Armstrong, Laurie A. Guerrero, Carol M. Siskovic, Jacinto J. Cardona, Gregg Barrios, Nephtali' De Leon, Bonnie Lyons, Rod C. Stryker, Eduardo Cavazos Garza, Nicole Provencher, Carol Reposa, Valerie Bailey, Antoinette Franklin, and Jamie Maverick.
A Selection Committee comprised of four accomplished and nationally recognized poets from across the country reviewed the nominations and made the unanimous selection. The Selection Committee included:
Francisco Aragón is a poet, translator, essayist, and founder and editor of Momotombo Press who serves on the board of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs. He currently directs Letras Latinas, the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at Notre Dame.
Catherine Bowman is Director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Indiana University and the author of the several poetry collections. Her writing has been awarded the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize, the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Poetry, the Dobie Paisano Fellowship, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, and four Yaddo Fellowships.
Cyrus Cassells is the author of 5 acclaimed books of poetry with honors including a Lannan Literary Award, a Lambda Literary Award, the National Poetry Series Prize, and the William Carlos Williams Award, as well as fellowships from the NEA and the Rockefeller Foundation. He is a Professor of English at Texas State University.
Valerie Martínez was the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico from 2008 to 2010. She has published seven books of poetry. She is Executive Director and Core Artist for Littleglobe, a non-profit organization that collaborates with communities to create public works of art, both in installation and performance.
The concept of a Poet Laureate originated in England in the 1600s. The laureate description refers to the ancient Greek tradition of placing a laurel wreath or crown as recognition for significant achievements, including literary triumphs. Typically appointed by the government, Poets Laureate hold an honorary position after being recognized for their significant achievements in the arts and literature. The duties and length of time that Poets Laureate may serve vary depending on the community.
Countries with Poets Laureate include England, Scotland, Wales and South Africa. The United States Poet Laureate was established in 1937. California was the first state to appoint a poet laureate in 1915. Texas has appointed a Poet Laureate since 1932. Forty states currently appoint an official poet laureate.
U.S. cities including Santa Barbara, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Denver appoint Poets Laureate. Each municipality establishes criteria for selection and duties. Terms range from one to three years, and payment varies up to $5,000 per year.