Oakland City Hall. Credit: Pete Rosos

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Starting this week, Oakland residents who’ve published poetry in the past can throw their hat in the ring to become the city’s official Poet Laureate. Applications will be accepted through May 19 and the final selection will be announced in June. 

The Oakland Poet Laureate will serve a two-year term and be expected to deliver an inaugural address, perform four public poetry readings, and pen a poem commemorating the city. In addition, they’ll partner with Oakland’s Youth Poet Laureate, whose selection will also be announced in June. The Poet Laureate will receive an honorarium of $5,000.

The call for applications in April coincides with National Poetry Month, established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets. 

The Poet Laureate Program is a project of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Commission, which advises city officials on matters concerning cultural development and the arts in Oakland. The commission was re-established in February of this year after a nine-year hiatus. The Oakland Poet Laureate Program was created by the commission’s manager, Roberto Bedoya, and commission member J.K. Fowler, to make poetry accessible across all of Oakland’s seven districts and promote the importance of the art form. 

In an email to The Oaklandside, Bedoya said of the program: “Oakland has a rich literary history that underscores our City’s creativity, distinctiveness and poetics that this program celebrates and honors. The Poet Laureate will foreground the transformative power of poetry to foster belonging and will add to our city’s vibrancy.”

To be eligible, applicants must:

  • Be a current Oakland resident
  • Have lived in Oakland for a minimum of five years
  • Be 18 years of age or older
  • Have published at least two previous works. These may include publications in print journals, online, full-length books, collections of poetry, and self-published books.
  • Have a proven track record of community engagement and collaboration, including previous experience hosting events, organizing, teaching, and/or leading workshops and/or creative outreach to community members.

A complete listing of eligibility criteria and other details can be found on the city of Oakland’s press release.

Those interested in applying or nominating another individual can do so here. Specific questions can be submitted via email to OakPoetLaureate@oaklandca.gov. The application deadline is May 19, 2021.

Azucena Rasilla is an East Oakland native, a bilingual journalist reporting in Spanish and in English, and a longtime reporter on Oakland arts, culture and community. As an independent local journalist, she has reported for KQED Arts, The Bold Italic, Zora and The San Francisco Chronicle. She was a writer and social media editor for the East Bay Express, helping readers navigate Oakland’s rich artistic and creative landscapes through a wide range of innovative digital approaches.