Poet Laureate Program

The 2021 nomination period is closed. The next window to submit nominations will be in early 2023.


Photo of Ayodele Nzinga, the City's inaugural Poet Laureate
Jun 10, 2021

City Announces Inaugural Poet Laureate

Today, the City of Oakland’s Cultural Affairs Division announced Ms. Ayodele Nzinga has been selected as the inaugural Oakland Poet Laureate.

Launched in April 2021 during National Poetry Month, the new Oakland Poet Laureate program's primary goal is to make poetry more accessible across Oakland’s seven Council Districts. Poetry has a transformative power to rebirth/reinvigorate, help situate ourselves in space and place, and assist us in future casting/visioning for more embodied ways of moving forward, together, in our amazing city.

Through their new role, the Oakland Poet Laureate will help facilitate collaborations between local creatives, cultural organizations, local businesses, and community institutions. They will help bring recognition of Oakland as a nexus of cutting-edge creativity on a national stage. The work of the Oakland Poet Laureate will advance the value of “belonging” as articulated in Oakland’s Cultural Plan, Belonging in Oakland: A Cultural Development Plan. The tagline of which is “Equity is the Driving Force, Culture is the Frame, Belonging is the Goal.”

During the two-year term that starts June 2021, the Oakland Poet Laureate will deliver an inaugural address, partner with the Oakland Public Library’s Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, deliver four readings at City-owned locations throughout Oakland, and write one poem that commemorates our city. An honorarium of $5,000 will be awarded to the individual selected.

To view the press release click here.

Nomination Form and Deadline

The 2021 nomination period is closed. The next window to submit nominations will be in early 2023.

Eligibility Criteria

  • Must be a current Oakland resident who has lived in Oakland consistently for a minimum of five years.
  • Must be 18 years of age or older
  • Must have at least two previous works published. This may include publications in journals, online, a full-length or chapbook collection of poetry, or self-published chap/books.
  • Must have a proven track record of community engagement and collaboration, including previous experience hosting events, organizing, teaching and/or leading workshops, and/or creative outreach to community members.

Nomination & Selection Criteria

When submitting a nomination, you will be asked to provide the nominee’s:

  • Resume
  • Writing sample (up to 5 pages). Previously published work is okay.
  • Demographics (race/ethnicity, gender, language spoken/written)

In reviewing nominations, the Oakland Poet Laureate Oversight Committee (OPLOC) will consider the following criteria:

  • Understanding of the multiplicity of the aesthetic speeches of the city and consideration of the ways literature, heritage practices, film, arts practices, etc. illuminate how Oaklanders express their poetic souls.
  • Command of poetry as a craft
  • Affirmation of a poetic voice that expresses Oakland’s diversity, beauty, and distinctions.
  • Community engagement experience and ability to communicate well across a diverse range of communities
  • Understanding of civic narratives around equity, culture, and belonging

Position Requirements

  • Inaugural address: One inaugural address (virtual or in person) supported by the Mayor’s office, to residents of Oakland speaking to the power of poetics to rebirth and reinvigorate. (30–45 minutes in length. This will be recorded for the sake of posterity.)
  • OPL + OYPL reading series: One quarterly, collaborative and ongoing reading in partnership with the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate (OYPL) Program intentionally giving more space to the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate. Oakland Youth Poet Laureate, Oakland Poet Laureate, and three guests of each join together for a reading at a rotating Oakland library location. (Five readers in total per reading)
  • City reading series: Four additional one-time readings in City owned locations (amphitheaters, city parks, etc.) around Oakland, not just in one location of the city. (Suggestion: 90-minute readings with 10 readers per reading.)
  • Commemorative poem: One poem written to commemorate Oakland and the OPL term. (No particular length limit. May be framed in City Hall and/or incorporated into public art around the City.)

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