The City of Oak Ridge has named Erin Elizabeth Smith as its first honorary poet laureate. Smith will serve in this role for a two-year period, a press release said.
“In this role, she will inspire and promote literacy and literature to the residents of the city at things like cultural events and city celebrations,” the press release said. “With Oak Ridge being a unique community as the first and primary Manhattan Project site, it places a high value on literacy as foundation to our other values of education, science, technology, and environmental stewardship.”
In the fall of 2021, Oak Ridge City Council was approached about the concept of establishing the honorary position of poet laureate for the city. City Council was in concurrence, the Oak Ridge Poet Laureate Committee was created, and a nomination and selection process took place, the press release said.
Smith was selected after a detailed review of three nominees and was formally designated to the role at the February 14 City Council meeting.
“During my tenure, I’m looking forward to continuing to be a part of this vibrant community and writing work that investigates and celebrates our history, and our now,” Smith said after accepting the role at the meeting.
The selection committee noted that Smith has extensive publication and teaching experience. She has a long history of community engagement and the promotion of poetry workshops with a large network of contacts in the region and beyond, noting her very strong social media presence, the press release said.
Erin Elizabeth Smith is the executive director for Sundress Publications and the Sundress Academy for the Arts, a writers residency in Karns. She is the author of three full-length collections of poetry, most recently DOWN (SFASU 2020), and her work has appeared in Guernica, Ecotone, Crab Orchard, and Mid-American Review, among others. Smith is a distinguished lecturer in the English Department at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
She also has a significant understanding and appreciation of the heritage of Oak Ridge. The role is an honorary post, not an official agent of the City of Oak Ridge, the press release said.
A second press release said the Oak Ridge poet laureate will performs duties such as reading poems at ceremonial events and at City Council and other public meetings. Examples of ceremonial events include the unveiling of a new building, festivals, writing workshops, summer celebrations, and library events.
“The new laureate is expected to champion the art of poetry in Oak Ridge in person and on social media and encourage appreciation of the art form and creative expression by a wide range of city residents, including youth, by celebrating the city’s cultural heritage, and by attending literary and other cultural events in the city as appropriate,” the press release said.
It said the Oak Ridge poet laureate will give 5-10 public readings per year, including workshops that are free and open to the public, as well as visits to schools and/or events for young people. Also, they serve as an advisor to the Poet Laureate Committee to help choose a youth poet laureate.
Smith is the author of “The Fear of Being Found” (Three Candles Press 2008) and “The Naming of Strays” (Gold Wake Press 2011). Her poems have appeared in numerous journals including “32 Poems,” “New Delta Review,” “Yalobusha Review,” “Water~Stone,” “Cimarron Review,” and “RHINO.” She teaches in the English Department at the University of Tennessee and serves as the managing editor of “Stirring: A Literary Collection” and the “Best of the Net Anthology.” She is the founder and creative director of Sundress Academy of the Arts, a writers’ retreat on a 45-acre farm in Knoxville that offers short-term residencies to writers in all genres including poetry, fiction, nonfiction, journalism, screenwriting, academic writing, and more, the press release said. Her term will begin March 1 and run through February 28, 2024.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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