Providing grants, programs, and services to the artists and audiences of Tompkins County for over 25 years

Poet Laureate

Poet Laureate of Tompkins County

A poet laureate is a poet officially appointed by a government or conferring organization.  The tradition is believed to have started in what is now Italy in the 14th century.  Today, more than a dozen countries around the world continue the tradition.  The United States created the position of national poet laureate in 1937, and today many U.S. states and communities name their own poets laureate.

The position of Tompkins County Poet Laureate was established by the Tompkins County Legislature in 2001 to honor local outstanding poets, integrate poetry into the community, enrich the education of our young people, and enhance the county’s position as a cultural center.

Since its establishment, the selection and announcement of the Tompkins County Poet Laureate has been a process administered by the Community Arts Partnership (CAP). CAP solicits nominations and organizes the selection panel for appointment to the post. Appointments have been for two-year terms. This is an honorary position without salary.

Current Tompkins County Poet Laureate
Dr. Christine Kitano

On July 19, 2020, the Tompkins County Legislature appointed Dr. Christine Kitano as the County’s next Poet Laureate. Dr. Kitano is the 10th Poet Laureate to serve Tompkins County.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Dr. Kitano lives in Brooktondale and is an assistant professor at Ithaca College where she teaches poetry and Asian American literature. She also serves on the faculty for the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Birds of Paradise (Lynx House Press), and Sky Country (BOA Editions) which won the Central New York Book Award.

Explains Megan Barber, Executive Director of the Community Arts Partnership, which administers the Poet Laureate selection process, “We received nominations for eight outstanding local poets, each with unique ideas about how to put poetry in service to the community. We are so excited about Dr. Kitano’s appointment.

In her letter nominating Dr. Kitano, Dr. Eleanor Henderson, Robert Ryan Professor in the Humanities and Chair of the Department of Writing at Ithaca College, praised Dr. Kitano’s commitment to equity, inclusion, and antiracism, adding “Dr. Kitano has a calm, confident way of bringing people together around language, and I could imagine her doing so again and again in the position of Poet Laureate.

Amanda Champion, Tompkins County Legislator, had this to say: “We received many incredible applications for this year’s Poet Laureate. The talent and beauty of our community never ceases to amaze me. We’re delighted to welcome Dr. Kitano in this role and look forward to a year of poignant prose that will capture the moment and inspire us all.”

Past Tompkins County Poet Laureates

Melissa Tuckey 2019-2020
Kathryn Howd Machan 2002-2004
Michelle Courtney Berry 2004-2006
Paul Hamill 2007-2009
Jay Leeming 2010-2011
Gail Holst-Warhaft 2011-2012
Tish Pearlman 2013-2015
Jack Hopper 2015-2016
Irene (Zee) Zahava 2017-2018