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First Native American poet laureate appointed in Washington

UPDATED: Fri., April 2, 2021

Rena Priest, a Bellingham resident and member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, is the new Washington state poet laureate. Her debut poetry collection “Patriarchy Blues” won an American Book Award.  (Courtesy of Rena Priest)
Rena Priest, a Bellingham resident and member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, is the new Washington state poet laureate. Her debut poetry collection “Patriarchy Blues” won an American Book Award. (Courtesy of Rena Priest)
Associated Press

Associated Press

BELLINGHAM – Rena Priest, a member of the Lummi Nation and a Bellingham writer, has become the first Native American poet to serve as Washington state’s poet laureate.

Gov. Jay Inslee appointed Priest to be the state’s sixth poet laureate, the Washington State Arts Commission and Humanities Washington announced Thursday.

Her two-year term begins April 15.

Priest said she was “excited and honored” by the appointment.

“I’m fascinated by the way people come together around poetry,” the Lummi tribal member said in a news release. “It’s a powerful way of connecting.”

Priest succeeds Claudia Castro Luna, the current poet laureate and a Seattle resident.

One of her main goals as poet laureate will be to celebrate poetry in tribal communities in the state.

“There are 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington, composed of 140,714 tribal citizens,” Priest said in the release. “I’m sad to say that in the hundreds of poetry readings I’ve attended over the years, I’ve only met a handful of Native poets. I know that this is not because we don’t exist, but because we don’t have the same access to writing communities as people living in cities and towns.”

She also wants to use poetry to focus attention on the natural world and its protection at a critical juncture.

Her literary debut, “Patriarchy Blues,” received the 2018 American Book Award. Her most recent work is “Sublime Subliminal.”

State officials said laureate candidates were evaluated on their writing acumen as well as their promotion of poetry and commitment to reaching diverse communities.

Previous state poet laureates are Claudia Castro Luna (2018-present); Spokane’s Tod Marshall (2016-2018), a Gonzaga University professor; Elizabeth Austen (2014-2016); Kathleen Flenniken (2012-2014); and Sam Green (2007-2009).

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