Washington State Poets Laureate
Washington State Poets Laureate left to right: Claudia Castro Luna (2018-2021); Tod Marshall (2016-18); Elizabeth Austen (2014-16); Kathleen Flenniken (2012-14); and Sam Green (2007-09).

Announcing Washington’s newest Poet Laureate, Rena Priest, 2021-23

In conjunction with National Poetry Month 2021, poet Rena Priest was been appointed Washington State Poet Laureate by Governor Jay Inslee. A member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, Priest will be the first Indigenous poet to be the state’s Poet Laureate. Priest’s literary debut, Patriarchy Blues, was honored with the 2018 American Book Award, and her most recent work is Sublime Subliminal. The two-year term officially begins April 15, 2021. She will succeed Claudia Castro Luna, the current poet laureate.

In addition to winning the American Book Award for Patriarchy Blues, Priest’s latest book is Sublime Subliminal. She has received the Allied Arts Foundation 2020 Professional Poets Award, and residency fellowships from Hawthornden Castle, Hedgebrook, and Mineral School. She is also the recipient of the 2020 Vadon Foundation Fellowship. She is a National Geographic Explorer and a 2019 Jack Straw Writer. Priest’s work can be found in Poetry Northwest, Pontoon Poetry, Verse Daily, Poem-a-Day at Poets.org, and elsewhere. She has taught Comparative Cultural Studies and Contemporary American Issues at Western Washington University and Native American Literature at Northwest Indian College. Priest holds a BA in English from Western Washington University and an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She lives in Bellingham, Washington.

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. Read full announcement.

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.

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.

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