Friday, May 30, 2014

An Open Letter to Dr. James Billington, Librarian of Congress

Yesterday, Split This Rock sent the following letter to Dr. James Billington, Librarian of Congress, urging him to appoint a person of color as the next Poet Laureate. 

To add your name to this Open Letter, please send an email to with "Open Letter" as the subject line. In the body of the email, please tell us exactly how you'd like to be identified.

Thank you for joining this effort to make the very public position of Poet Laureate more accurately reflect the true diversity of American poetries.

May 28, 2014

Dr. James Billington
Librarian of Congress
via email

Dear Dr. Billington,

We are writing to you as members of the broad and diverse literary community of the United States, to urge you to appoint a poet of color as the next Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.

As you know, the position of Poet Laureate was created in 1985 after a 22-year effort in Congress by Spark Masayuki Matsunaga, an Asian American veteran of WWII who represented the people of Hawai’i first as a US Representative and then as Senator for a total of 27 years. And yet, in the 28 years since Senator Matsunaga’s long effort finally paid off, only two people of color have held the position of Poet Laureate.

Poetry can tell the many stories of our nation, can help us understand and bridge our differences, but only if we listen to its many and varied voices. The outgoing Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, was an exemplary choice; her own poetry and her tireless efforts extended the reach of the Laureate’s office, bringing the transformative power of poetry to wide and diverse audiences.

We urge you to build on Trethewey’s successes by appointing another poet of color, continuing to showcase the extraordinary work that poets of all ethnicities and races are doing throughout the nation. Indeed, as there has never been an Asian American, Latino/a, or Native American Poet Laureate, this year offers an excellent opportunity to broaden representation and reflect the great diversity of the United States.

With gratitude for your dedication to poetry and literature,

Sarah Browning, Split This Rock
Dan Vera, Split This Rock
Francisco Aragón, Institute for Latino Studies, University of Notre Dame
Craig Santos Perez, Director, Creative Writing Program, University of Hawai'i, Mānoa
Sonya Renee Taylor, Artist, Activist, Founder of The Body is Not An Apology
Joseph O. Legaspi, Co-founder, Kundiman
Susan K. Scheid, Split This Rock
Barbara Jane Reyes, Yuchengco Philippine Studies Program, University of San Francisco
Maritza Rivera, Publisher, Casa Mariposa Press
Eileen Myles, poet
Martín Espada, poet
Yael Flusberg, Split This Rock
Pamela Uschuk, Raven’s Word Writers
Brenda Hillman, Faculty Director of MFA Program in Creative Writing, Saint Mary's College of California
Ed Madden, University of South Carolina
Afaa Michael Weaver, Simmons College
Melissa Tuckey, Split This Rock
Charles Bane, Jr., Contributor, The Gutenberg Project
Kevin Simmonds, poet
Pamela Stewart, poet
Eduardo C. Corral, poet
Ruby Hansen Murray, poet
Beth Seetch, poet
Joseph Ross, poet
Prageeta Sharma, The University of Montana, Co-director of Thinking Its Presence: Race and Creative Writing Conference
David Giannini, poet
Meg Withers, Professor of English and Creative Writing, Poet, Community Activist
Phylinda Moore, poet
Tim Seibles, Old Dominion University
Larry Sawyer, Co-director/The Chicago School of Poetics; curator/Myopic Poetry Series, Chicago

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