John Warner Smith is the First Black Male Poet Laureate for the State of Louisiana

John Warner Smith has been appointed by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards to serve as the next Poet Laureate for the state of Louisiana. This appointment makes Smith the first African American man to hold the position.

“John Warner Smith’s writing captures the human experience through meaningful, passionate poetry that moves your emotions. John is not only a talented and gifted poet, he is a trailblazer who devotes himself to education and the greater good of the community,” Gov. Edwards said. “He is making history today as the first African American male appointed as Louisiana Poet Laureate, and I’m confident that John will serve our great state well. I want to thank the LEH for leading this search, and I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings tell the unique stories of Louisiana, the place we call home.”

Currently, Smith teaches English at Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He has published four collections of poetry: Muhammad’s Mountain (Lavender Ink, 2018), Spirits of Gods (University of Louisiana Lafayette Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016), and A Mandala of Hands (Kelsay Books-Aldrich Press, 2015). His fifth collection, Out Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America, is forthcoming this year from MadHat Press.

“I like to think of my work as helping to narrow or bridge the distance that our differences often create between us,” said Smith. “As poet laureate, I hope to broaden awareness of how poetry enriches our lives. Having spent my early childhood in a public housing project and attended public schools during the tumultuous years of the Civil Rights Movement, I would especially like to bring that awareness to the youth of poorer, rural parts of Louisiana.”

Smith is a graduate of McNeese State University in Louisiana, where he majored in psychology and accounting. He holds an MBA from the University of Louisiana Lafayette and a master of fine arts degree from the University of New Orleans.


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