Two Arizona State University professors are now among a prestigious class of poets that have been selected by the Academy of American Poets for fellowships made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Navajo Nation Poet Laureate Laura Tohe, a professor emeritus with distinction in ASU’s Department of English and Rosemarie Dombrowski, inaugural poet laureate of Phoenix and instructor of women’s literature and medical humanities in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, are among the academy’s 2020 Poets Laureate Fellows.
Tohe and Dombrowski are among 23 individuals serving as poets laureate of states, cities, counties and the Navajo Nation who will be leading civic poetry programs in their respective communities in the coming year. Each fellow will receive $50,000 for a combined total of $1.1 million. The academy will also provide $66,500 to 12 local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations that have agreed to support the fellows’ proposed projects.
Tohe’s project will further her work with students in the Navajo Nation through poetry-writing workshops and programs that focus on the Navajo language, which is listed as vulnerable by UNESCO.
“Writing poetry in Navajo supports revitalizing our language and recitation of our oral tradition,” Tohe said. “For this purpose, I will select a school with a Navajo language immersion program for the workshop.”
Tohe had planned to work in person with students on the Navajo Nation homeland but due to the coronavirus outbreak that has hit members of the Navajo Nation particularly hard, she will conduct her workshops through the online video conference platform Zoom with the support of school administration.
For her project, Dombrowski will present the interactive Phoenix Poetry Walk that will take place across multiple venues on Phoenix’s historic Grand Avenue. It will feature 50 unique readings by poetry-focused organizations across a six-hour period. Dombrowski hopes the walk will inject poetry into the community not only by exposing Phoenix residents to all forms of spoken word, but by engaging them in the poetic process via interactive elements like a magnetic poetry wall, poets writing poetry on demand for the public, the live installation of a poetic mural, and an after-hours open-mic.
The Academy of American Poets, through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The Mellon Foundation awarded the academy $4.5 million in January of this year to fund the fellowship program through 2022. This year, in response to the global health crisis, the academy launched the #ShelterInPoems initiative, inviting members of the public to select poems of comfort and courage from its online collection to share with others on social media. The academy is also one of seven national organizations that comprise Artist Relief, a multidisciplinary coalition of arts grantmakers and a consortium of foundations collaborating to provide funding to individual poets, writers and artists who are impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.