Louisiana has a new poet laureate! John Warner Smith will take on the duties for the next two years, appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and governor John Bel Edwards. Smith received an MFA in creative writing at the University of New Orleans, and he and I are both Cave Canem Fellows. Smith has published four collections of poetry and his fifth collection, Our Shut Eyes, is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press. I was happy to reconnect with him and congratulate him on his new appointment.
As a poet who grew up in Louisiana, Smith feels that his writing is grounded in history and personal experience. “I was one of five Black students who integrated my junior high school. I had early work experiences with racism,” says Smith. “As a native son of Louisiana and a product of Jim Crow and the Civil Rights Movement, I find inspiration in the struggles of my grandparents and parents.”
For his tenure as the state’s first African American male poet laureate, Smith hopes to do readings and writing workshops in different regions of the state over the next two years. “I especially want to reach youth in the poorer parts of the state,” says Smith. “I want to be very visible and accessible.”
As for advice for writers, Smith says, “Follow the passion. Nurture it. Read and study the works of writers. Attend workshops. Share work with a community of writers.”
Read more about John Warner Smith in his Poets & Writers Directory profile.Kelly Harris is the literary outreach coordinator for Poets & Writers in New Orleans. Contact her at NOLA@pw.org or on Twitter, @NOLApworg.