Pioneers in Poetry: The District of Columbia’s Poet Laureate

In addition to the 42 states that name poets to this special position, the District of Columbia also has its very own poet laureate! But the tradition here is maybe not as long-standing as states like California and Colorado; the current poet laureate, Dolores Kendrick, is only the second poet ever in D.C. to receive this honor, and she has held the seat since 1999! So during her nearly 15 year tenure as poet laureate of the nation’s capital, what has Dolores Kendrick sought to accomplish? Read on to find out more!

 districtofcolumbiaInternational Flair and a Way with Words

Not only has Dolores Kendrick served as D.C.’s poet laureate since 1999, but her work and influence have extended far beyond the boundaries of that city. In the 1990s, she taught in Shanghai, China at the prestigious Shanghai School of Foreign Languages, bringing to life some of the biggest names in literature for her students, including James Baldwin, Arthur Miller, and Tennessee Williams. Then, in 2007, she was invited to Aix-en-Provence, France to teach English and poetry to French high school students; she also worked with students in Paris during that time as well. Just two years ago, another international neighbor came knocking for Dolores Kendrick; the Cultural Attaché of the Italian Embassy commissioned her to launch a project centered on contemporary Italian poets and other artwork. But for all of her worldwide acclaim, Dolores Kendrick does remain committed to D.C. and, as poet laureate, boosting the profile of poets and poetry in the city.

 Initiatives from the Poet Laureate of D.C.

One of Kendrick’s main goals as poet laureate has been to take poetry out of the inaccessible, hyper-artistic box it is so often put into and to show people how to enjoy, participate with, and even write their own poetry. Her program “Poets in Progress” highlights young and aspiring poets through a series of readings at the Folger Shakespeare Library. In another attempt to reach out to young poets and encourage them to develop their craft, Kendrick sponsors the Young Champion Poets Program, an annual event pitting poets from two D.C. high schools against one another (in a sportsmanlike way, of course). Are you, like Kendrick’s protégées, a young, aspiring poet unafraid of a little competition? Or perhaps you are a person who, like Kendrick, has traveled around the world and have been inspired by what you’ve seen. Either way, consider submitting your poems to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!

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