Poet Laureate Gwendolyn Zepeda at LibroFEST 2013

In April 2013, Gwendolyn Zepeda was named Houston’s first Poet Laureate, a newly created position intended to elevate the visibility and reach of poetry. The position was the brainchild of Mayor Annise Parker, herself a poet, and the poet laureate program is jointly administered by the mayor’s office and the Houston Public Library. Over the course of her two-year tenure, Zepeda has conducted poetry workshops at libraries across the city, written poems for several official events, and made numerous honorary appearances. “She’s been great, she really has been,” said Jennifer Schwartz, the Houston Public Library’s program manager. “She’s been dubbed the people’s poet—she’s just really gone out there and got people excited about poetry.” 

Now the city is nearing the end of its search for the person who will succeed Zepeda as the city’s second Poet Laureate—the deadline for applications is today at 5 p.m. Hopefuls must meet a highly detailed series of requirements:

1: Within the last five years they must have published at least one full-length book (not self-published); OR published at least 20 poems in “established publications (print or online)”; OR published 10 poems in established publications and received a top-10 individual ranking in a national or international poetry slam (“not self-curated”). 

2. Must have lived in Houston for at least four years. Proof of residency required. 

3. Must have “strong ties to the city of Houston and a strong interest in serving the city.”

4. Must have experience in public speaking and public performance. “Some teaching experience is preferred, but not required.” 

5. Must be at least 21 years old and not currently enrolled in an academic program.

If you meet these requirements, you must submit a nominating statement, a 10-15 page writing sample, a CV, a biography, and a “proposal for a community outreach program.” 

In other words, no dilettantes need apply. “What we’re looking for is an experienced poet,” Schwartz said. “We want them to have a knowledge of Houston, so they have a love and understanding of the city. And we’re asking them to provide their own ideas of how they would like to promote poetry by proposing an outreach program.” 

Applications will be read by a selection committee appointed by Mayor Parker and Director of Libraries Rhea Brown Lawson. Finalists will be interviewed in person by the committee, and the final selection will be made by Parker and Lawson. The new Poet Laureate will be announced in April—National Poetry Month. He or she will receive a $10,000 stipend, paid in installments over their two-year term.

So why does Houston need a Poet Laureate, anyway? According to Schwartz, it’s part of the mayor’s broader emphasis on the arts. “We just think that poetry in the community is really empowering. It’s an important art form, and this position is a great asset to the Houston community.” 

Applications should be sent as PDFs to Schwartz at jennifer.schwartz@houstontx.gov

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