Dillard University Professor, Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy, Named Louisiana’s Poet Laureate for 2021-2023

Photo Credit: Larry Everage

Dr. Mona Lisa Saloy has been named Louisiana’s Poet Laureate for 2021-2023 by The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities and Governor John Bel Edwards. John Warner Smith served as poet laureate from 2019 through August 13th of this year. Saloy will assume the post beginning August 14th.

A native New Orleanian, Mona Lisa Saloy is an author, folklorist, educator, and scholar. In her work, she has captured contemporary Creole culture in poems about Black New Orleans, before and after Katrina, and as a Folklorist, Saloy documents sidewalk songs, jump-rope rhymes, and clap-hand games to discuss the importance of play. 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 Awards in 2006. Her second published collection, “Second Line Home: New Orleans Poems”, was published by Truman State University Press in 2014.

Saloy is also the Conrad N. Hilton Endowed Professor of English at Dillard University in New Orleans. As a faculty member and mentor, she 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.

Saloy earned a Ph.D. 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.

“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.”

According to selection guidelines, nominees for poet laureate 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.

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 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, in a press release. “I want to encourage folks to tell their unique Louisiana stories in verse, to honor ancestors, and look with hope into tomorrow.”

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