Claudia Castro Luna named 2018-2020 Washington State Poet Laureate
The Salvadoran-born, former Seattle Civic Poet is first person of color to assume the role
Claudia Castro Luna, a prominent Seattle poet and teacher, has been appointed the fifth Washington State Poet Laureate by Governor Jay Inslee. 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.
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 of 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.
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. Laureates are selected through an application and panel review process that evaluates candidates’ proposed project plans, writing acumen, and experience promoting poetry. The finalists for the 2018-2020 laureate position included prominent blues poet Gary Copeland Lilley, City of Redmond poet laureate and Stranger Genius Award-winner Shin Yu Pai, and Floating Bridge Press Chapbook Award-winning poet Michael Schmeltzer.
As the first immigrant and woman of color to assume the role, Castro Luna will be advocating for poetry during a particularly fraught period for both the humanities (the current administration proposed eliminating the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities early this year) and immigrant populations, who are confronting uncertainty in the face of travel bans and heated rhetoric.
“This is so much more than an honorary position,” said Julie Ziegler, executive director of Humanities Washington. “It’s very hard work, particularly in an era when our country is profoundly divided. The Poet Laureate gives a lot of him or herself, traveling thousands of miles back and forth across the state to reach the widest range of people possible.”
“Poets laureate visit urban coffee houses one day, a small-town library or festival the next, and with a quick stop at a suburban elementary school along the way,” Ziegler said. “They touch a huge number of people, from poetry aficionados to those who don’t think they like poetry.”
While fleeing El Salvador with her parents and sister in 1981, her father insisted on bringing a cumbersome box of books-including works on mathematics, social science, and language. Her rediscovery of the box in her attic years later prompted her to write a short story for Humanities Washington’s Bedtime Stories event in 2015 about the importance of literature in forming identity, much of which will be included in a memoir she is writing on her escape from the Salvadoran Civil War.
“Claudia grew up knowing firsthand the importance of literature, particularly its power in trying times,” said Karen Hanan, executive director of the Washington State Arts Commission/ArtsWA. “This has given her the ability to connect with a range of people, and her experience as an immigrant will enable the program to reach new communities. She’s also wonderfully inventive-it’s clear she’ll take this role to new and interesting places. She’s a fantastic choice for the position.”
“It is a profound honor to serve the State of Washington as the next poet laureate,” said Castro Luna. “I look forward to continuing the legacy of my predecessors, to engaging with a broad spectrum of communities across the state and to maintaining appreciation for, and contributing to, our rich poetic heritage.”
Passing of the Laurels - January 31, 2018 - Seattle Public Library
Castro Luna will kick off her tenure at a “Passing of the Laurels” event on January 31 at 7:00 p.m. at the Seattle Public Library Main Branch. The reading will include current laureate Tod Marshall, past poets laureate Kathleen Flenniken and Elizabeth Austen, and other prominent Washington State poets.
About the Washington State Poet Laurete
The Washington State Poet Laureate position was established in April 2007 when the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that recognized the value of poetry to the culture and heritage of the state. Washington joined several other states in appointing an official state poet laureate position. The Washington State Poet Laureate is a joint program of the Washington State Arts Commission (ArtsWA) and Humanities Washington, and is appointed by the Governor. The position is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, ArtsWA, and Humanities Washington. Information and events calendar at: wapoetlaureate.org.
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