Posted on 04/27/2017

Award-winning poet is nationally recognized as a major figure of contemporary literature

LOS ANGELES — Mayor Eric Garcetti announced today that Robin Coste Lewis, winner of the National Book Award, is the new Poet Laureate of the City of Los Angeles.

As an official ambassador of L.A.’s arts community, Lewis will promote and celebrate the written word, and represent the city’s rich literary scene.

“Robin is a fearless writer whose lyricism reclaims history for people who feel forgotten, and gives voice to those who feel silenced,” said Mayor Garcetti. “Los Angeles is fortunate to be represented by such a powerful artist. She will push boundaries and challenge us to rethink our perspectives.”

The Los Angeles Poet Laureate Program is a collaboration between the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) and the Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL). Its aim is to enhance the presence and appreciation of poetry and the literary arts in Los Angeles, and to engage Angelenos who have limited exposure to poetry and other forms of expressive writing.

“The role of the L.A. Poet Laureate is two-fold: first, to celebrate and curate an ever-widening cross-city appreciation for poetry of all kinds, from all cultures and nations; second, to celebrate the rich and diverse history of Los Angeles poetry,” said Lewis. “Poetry is high art, sure, but it is also an exceedingly accessible cultural game that anyone can play. From the elderly to prisoners, I try at all times to remind my students that the only difference between a great poet and a lousy one is practice. Poetry isn’t rocket science. It’s merely love.”

A native of Compton, Lewis is the author of the award-winning collection Voyage of the Sable Venus. She is a writer-in-residence and provost’s fellow at the University of Southern California. A finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the California Book Award, she has published poems in The New YorkerThe Best American PoetryLambda Literary Review, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond.

“We are thrilled to celebrate National Poetry Month with Robin named the official ambassador of Los Angeles’s vibrant poetry and literary culture,” said Danielle Brazell, General Manager of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. “We are so pleased she will promote the transformative qualities of poetry and the written word across all communities in our great city.”

Lewis has an MFA in creative writing from New York University, a master of theological studies from Harvard Divinity School, where she studied Sanskrit and comparative religious literature, and a PhD in poetry and visual studies from the University of Southern California. She lives in Los Angeles.

“Lewis’s poetry is both tender and arresting. She is an astute cultural critic, alert to the complexities of race and the black female voice,” said City Librarian John F. Szabo.

To select the new Poet Laureate, DCA convened a peer review panel of four professionals: a senior librarian from LAPL, the director of a local chapter of a national literary nonprofit organization, a City of Los Angeles Master Fellow in Poetry, and an award-winning poet from San Francisco.

Lewis will serve a two-year term as Poet Laureate, and will be awarded an annual grant of $10,000 from DCA.