Wednesday, April 11, 2012

San Antonio's Mayor Castro announces nationally renowned author Carmen Tafolla as City's inaugural Poet Laureate

On April 3, 2012, San Antonio became the first major city in Texas to appoint a Poet Laureate. Mayor Julián Castro formally announced nationally renowned author and poet Carmen Tafolla as the Poet Laureate in keeping with the SA2020 goal of turning San Antonio into “a brainpower community that is the liveliest city in the nation.” The initiative applies to the Arts & Culture as well as Education vision areas. The honorary position was created to promote the literary arts and literacy within the community as well as foster a greater appreciation of the poetic arts through the reading and writing of poetry. The Poet Laureate will serve a two-year term and will commit to a minimum of three City sponsored and selected public appearances for each year of service. 

"I can think of no one more worthy of this honor than Carmen Tafolla. She's not only an accomplished poet and educator; she is a homegrown talent who embodies the power and poignancy of art in our community. I am proud to call her San Antonio's first Poet Laureate," Mayor Julián Castro responded to the determination by the Poet Laureate selection committee. The announcement follows the Mayor’s State of the City address where he called for San Antonians to “be bold and invest in the city’s future” through education, early childhood education in particular.

The City’s Office of Cultural Affairs received 21 nominations representing 15 local poets. The selection committee was comprised of poetsfrom around the country: Francisco Aragon (San Francisco, CA), Catherine Bowman (Indiana), Cyrus Cassells (Texas), and Valerie Martinez (New Mexico). The application process opened in November 2011 and nominations were accepted until January 18, 2012. The committee review process took approximately six weeks.

Tafolla’s goal as Poet Laureate, she believes, is to bring the joy of literature into the daily lives of the people of this great pueblo, and to empower the expression of their own poetic voices in our young and old alike. She believes strongly that a multicultural dual-language education is one of the greatest gifts we can provide our children, and that effective family literacy is heavily dependent on the availability of stories and literature to which people can relate culturally and realistically. “Literacy and literature cannot be realistically separated if we hope to have an impact on all of our residents,” says Tafolla. “Powerful stories that reflect our reality reverberate inside us, and give us meaning. Literature cannot afford to be elitist or disconnected from the community.”

Her first solo collection of poetry, Curandera, was published in 1983, and gleaned her recognition as a master of “code-switching,” the art of alternating between formal and colloquial Spanish and English, as a literary technique. She has been called “a world class writer” by Alex Haley, and a “pioneer of Chicana literature” by Ana Castillo. Tafolla has published five books of poetry, including the award-winning Sonnets to Human Beings, translated into German in 1992, Spanish in 1994, and Bengali in 2006; the most recent collection, Rebozos, will be published in September 2012.

One of her most-loved children’s books is That’s Not Fair! Emma Tenayuca’s Struggle for Justice / ¡No es Justo! La lucha de Emma Tenayuca por la justicia, which tells the true and inspiring story of pecan shellers in the 1920s and 1930s in San Antonio struggling for better pay and working conditions and the young woman who became a hero for the cause. Other children’s books, including What Can you DO with a Paleta? and What Can you DO with a Rebozo?, have won the prestigious Americas Award, presented to Tafolla in 2010 at the Library of Congress, the Charlotte Zolotow, for outstanding picture book writing, and two American Library Association (ALA) Notable Children’s Books. Her latest children’s book, Fiesta Babies, was named one of the Top Ten Best Books for Babies by the Fred Rogers Corporation. These only represent a sampling of her awards.

“Truly, she reaches all segments of the population, from the academic literary experts to the kindergarteners,” Texas State Senator Leticia Van de Putte enthusiastically stated in her nomination letter for Dr. Carmen Tafolla, who serves as Writer-in-Residence for Children’s, Youth & Transformative Literature in the Department of Bicultural-Bilingual Studies under the College of Education & Human Development at the University of Texas as San Antonio. “I congratulate San Antonio for having a responsible government that supports the arts because it promotes our great city as a great place to live and raise families,” Van de Putte continued.

For more information about the San Antonio Poet Laureate Initiative,please contact Diana Hidalgo at the Office of Cultural Affairs at 210.207.6568 or e-mail at <>. Visit <> your guide toarts and culture in San Antonio.

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