Raquel Salas Rivera, current poet laureate of Philadelphia, has been awarded $50,000 by the Academy of American Poets in a new national program supporting local poets laureate.
“It’s pretty amazing," Rivera said. "It’s really an exciting program.” The money will help pay for projects Rivera already has underway and for new ones, including a reading series and a possible book of poems.
Rivera, who is the city’s poet laureate for 2018-19, is one of 13 poets in nine states receiving the awards; this is the first year they have been given out. Announced earlier this year, the Academy of American Poets Laureate program grew out of a $2.2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Jennifer Benka, president and executive director of the academy, said that “this is among the largest awards ever given at one time to poets in the United States. We’re making a statement that poets matter.”
She said 45 states have poets laureate, and that more than 50 other poets hold these civic positions in cities, towns, counties, and tribal regions, “often working on their own dime.”
Benka said the academy’s board of poet-judges was recognizing Rivera "as a poet with a growing national reputation and as an up-and-coming civic leader. The fact that Rivera’s work celebrates both Spanish and English is something we recognize as important.”
Among Rivera’s recent accomplishments is the We (Too) Are Philly Poetry Festival, a series of six poetry gatherings in six separate neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia last summer.
To pay collaborators, Rivera had to scrape together a small grant from Kelly Writers House at the University of Pennsylvania plus the $5,000 stipend given to the city’s poet laureate. “That’s the kind of thing I need money for,” Rivera said.
Rivera’s current project is a monthly reading series titled Lo Nuestro (Our Thing), going since the beginning of 2019. The next one is May 13 at FringeArts.
April has been quite a Poetry Month so far for Rivera, who was just announced as a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in the transgender poetry category. The winners will be announced June 3.
The $50,000 from the Academy of American Poets should last awhile. “It will extend beyond the end of my time as poet laureate,” Rivera says. “I plan to be working in Philadelphia for a long time to come.”