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Introducing Louisiana’s next Poet Laureate: Mona Lisa Saloy

Photo by Larry Everage

The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, along with Governor John Bel Edwards, is proud to announce Louisiana’s newest Poet Laureate, Mona Lisa Saloy. Following John Warner Smith’s successful tenure as poet laureate from 2019 through August 13 of this year, Saloy will assume the post beginning August 14 and serve for two years.

“Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy beautifully captures the culture and essence of Louisiana in her mesmerizing poetry,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards.  “She understands the importance of using art to preserve our stories and pass them down for generations. As Louisiana’s poet laureate, she will continue to promote the art of poetry and inspire more people to pick up their pen and capture the world around them through verse.”

A native New Orleanian as well as a poet and folklorist, Saloy is the Conrad N. Hilton Endowed Professor of English at Dillard University in New Orleans. Her first collection of poetry, Red Beans & Ricely Yours: Poems (Truman State University Press) won the 2005 T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry as well as the Pen Oakland-Josephine Miles 16th Annual National Literary Award in 2006. Her second published collection, Second Line Home: New Orleans Poems, was published by Truman State University Press in 2014.

“Saloy’s books of poems are timeless classics, and required reading: I (and my students) return to her work again and again,” said Laura Mullen, McElveen Professor in English at Louisiana State University. “I love their grace, their ease: the way the poet draws you in and makes you a part of what she describes. In her ability to say the hard thing the most beautiful, memorable, way Saloy is like Lucile Clifton and Toi Derricotte: a poet who opens the hidden wound in order to heal us.”

A prolific writer of both poetry and on folklore traditions in Louisiana, Saloy earned a PhD and an MFA from Louisiana State University, an MA from San Francisco State University, and a BA from the University of Washington. Her work has been published in numerous academic and literary journals, including Africology: The Journal of Pan African Studies, Callaloo, Southern Journal of Linguistics, African American Review, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal, and more.

“Being selected as the Louisiana State Poet Laureate is a great honor and a wonderful opportunity for me personally and to promote poetry throughout our great state,” said Saloy. “I am thankful for this moment, for my ancestors, for my family, for my 7th Ward Neighborhood—the home of Jazz and great musicians and writers.”

As a faculty member and mentor Saloy has successfully raised funds for and expanded English and creative writing programs at Dillard, including securing major grants from the LEH, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, and more.

As Louisiana’s literary ambassador for the next two years, Saloy will travel the state encouraging fellow Louisianans to explore and engage with poetry. In addition to John Warner Smith, previous recent poets laureate include Jack Bedell, Brenda Marie Osbey, Darrell Bourque, Julie Kane, Ava Leavell Haymon, and Peter Cooley.

“Guided by the goal of the national Poet Laureate, I will seek to raise the consciousness to a greater appreciation of the reading and writing of poetry,” said Saloy. “I want to encourage folks to tell their unique Louisiana stories in verse, to honor ancestors, and look with hope into tomorrow.”

According to selection guidelines, nominees must have published works in books, anthologies, literary journals or magazines. In addition, the selection committee must seek information from the general public and the literary community. The committee must select nominees who reflect the diverse cultures and heritage of Louisiana.

Under state law, the LEH is charged with overseeing the poet laureate nomination process. This year’s nomination panel included past poets laureate Smith, Bedell, Bourque, and Haymon; LSU Press Director and Publisher of the Southern Review Alisa Plant; past Louisiana Writer of the Year Sheryl St. Germain; LEH Executive Director and President Miranda Restovic; and LEH VP of Public Programs Erin Greenwald.

The Poet Laureate will be available for public programming, including readings, workshops and lectures, at venues across Louisiana during her tenure. For sites that wish to host the Poet Laureate, please contact Christopher Robert at (504) 620-2639 or [email protected].

“Dr. Saloy is an icon of Louisiana’s vibrant and thriving poetry scene, and not only through her own work, but through her mentorship and stewardship of creative writing around the state,” said Miranda Restovic, executive director and president of the LEH. “We look forward to working with her in this new role so that she may continue that work bringing poetry to all Louisianans and encouraging new talent.”