Washington State Poet Laureate, Claudia Castro Luna, 2018-2021
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 first term runs from February 1, 2018 to January 31, 2020. She has been re-appointed for a one-year extension of her term, which runs through January 2021. She succeeded 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.”
“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 an appreciation for, and contributing to, our rich poetic heritage.”