Trapeta B. Mayson, a Liberian-born poet, teacher, and licensed social worker, will be Philadelphia’s next poet laureate, for 2020 and 2021, the Free Library of Philadelphia announced Thursday.
She will succeed Raquel Salas Rivera, who won a prestigious $50,000 award from the Academy of American Poets while serving in the post.
The poet laureate post is a two-year position with some ceremonial and community-outreach duties. Mayson will be expected to participate in at least one reading a year at the Free Library and participate in a school program, workshop, or some other public poetry activity. She will serve as a mentor to the city’s youth poet laureate, Mia Concepcion of South Philly.
The poet laureate is also typically invited to read an original poem at major civic occasions, like mayoral inaugurations, that happen during their tenure. Former poet laureate Yolanda Wisher composed a poem for the grand reopening of the renovated Logan Library in 2017.
The post comes with a $5,000 stipend, paid by the Free Library of Philadelphia, to support a community project that the poet laureate gets to design.
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Mayson said she hasn’t ironed out how she’ll use the platform that the position gives her, but she aspires to “touch base with social service agencies, particularly those pertaining to mental health, in [Philly’s] communities.”
“The thing I want to be known for is partnerships," Mayson said. “I want to create public displays of poems so there’s longevity" and to have impact beyond the poetry community.
Mayson grew up in North Philadelphia and Germantown, and is an alumna of Temple University, Bryn Mawr Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, and Villanova University School of Business. Her poetry focuses on the difficulties and triumphs of the immigrant experience.
She is the author of She Was Once Herself and a chapbook, Mocha Melodies. Mayson has received a Pew Fellowship in Literature, among other honors, and her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is an Emerging Writer’s Fellow with the Aspen Institute.
She has also released two music and poetry projects, SCAT and This Is How We Get Through, in collaboration with jazz guitarist Monnette Sudler.
Wisher, now cochair of the committee that selects the poet laureate, said in a statement that Mayson’s “lovingly crafted poems have fed, held, and awakened many of us already.”
“She has long been a beloved artist and educator in Philadelphia, and we are honored by her desire to serve as Poet Laureate," Wisher said. “Trapeta’s commitment to this city and its people is brilliantly evident in her work, art, and life.”
Daughters, we send you off, Hearts heavy like pregnant gut, Like swollen Liberian plums, We have sewn our wishes in the seams of your flesh. Your skin will grow so tough That jawbones will break when they try to gnaw. You are our map and when you return, we will study you.
Sonia Sanchez, a poet who’s known for her involvement with the Black Arts Movement of the ’60s and ’70s, was named Philadelphia’s first poet laureate in 2012. “The point of a poet laureate," she said, "is to remind people that poetry is that which simply helps us stay alive and remain human.”
One of her projects as poet laureate was a collaboration with Mural Arts on Peace is a Haiku Song, a mural in South Philly for which Sanchez called on Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Allison Walker, Common, and others to contribute haikus.