Jaki Shelton Green
Jaki Shelton Green at the 2018 N.C. Poet Laureate induction ceremony. Photo by Linda Fox for the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources
On May 17, 2021 Governor Roy Cooper announced that he would reappoint poet, teacher, and community advocate Jaki Shelton Green as North Carolina’s poet laureate.
“Jaki Shelton Green has a remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life through the literary arts,” Governor Cooper said. “I’m proud to reappoint Jaki and look forward to seeing her in this role inspire more young poets and artists."
Green was first appointed North Carolina Poet Laureate in 2018 and is the first African American, and the third woman, to serve as the state’s ambassador for poetry and the spoken word.
Green has conducted hundreds of public poetry workshops, lectures, and readings across North Carolina. In 2019 the American Academy of Poet Laureates awarded Green a $75,000 fellowship in recognition of her literary merit and public service. She used the award to launch “Literary ChangeMakers,” an initiative that supports youth poets engaged artistically in civic and community activism, social justice and youth leadership across the state.
“Jaki Shelton Green has used her platform as poet laureate to champion North Carolina’s rich literary traditions in communities across the state,” said D. Reid Wilson, secretary, N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. “Her emphasis on working with diverse writers and youth has been especially profound and meaningful.”
Born and raised in Efland, North Carolina, Green has been active in our state’s literary and teaching community for more than 40 years. She’s written eight books of poetry and a play, co-edited two anthologies of poetry, and has been published in over 80 national and international anthologies.
Over the course of her career, Green has taught poetry and creative writing at public libraries, universities, community colleges, K-12 schools and community nonprofits across the U.S. She currently teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and has been named the 2021 Frank B. Hanes Writer in Residence at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
“When I was appointed the N.C. Poet Laureate Juneteenth 2018, I dedicated myself to fulfilling the mission to promote and expand appreciation of the literary arts. My reappointment is a tremendous honor and will support my work plans across the state that were compromised by Covid-19,” said Green.
“I will continue to work with community-based organizations focused on the intersection of literature, cultural activism, advocacy, and transformation. New audience development, new delivery platforms, and new ways of increasing community engagement are at the core of my Laureateship.”
As a community arts advocate, Green has created and facilitated programs that serve diverse audiences across the state, including the incarcerated, homeless, chronically and mentally ill, victims of domestic violence and immigrants. Throughout the pandemic, she has focused on teaching, facilitating workshops, collaborating with other artists, curating special programs, and keynoting conferences virtually.
“During her tenure as N.C. Poet Laureate, Jaki Shelton Green has championed poetry’s potential to empower, build bridges, and heal,” said Wayne Martin, executive director of the N.C. Arts Council. “The Poet Laureate is a symbol of our literary community’s contributions to North Carolina and our nation, and the integrity and vision Jaki brings to her role honor our state’s literary heritage.”
Green’s awards include a 2020 Shaw University Ella Baker Women Who Lead Award, a 2019 N.C. Humanities Council Caldwell Award, and a 2003 North Carolina Award for Literature. She was inducted into the N.C. Literary Hall of fame in 2014 and named the inaugural N.C. Piedmont Laureate in 2009.
Last year Green released her first-ever spoken word poetry album: The River Speaks of Thirst. The Justice Theater Project presented a multimedia film adaptation of the album following its release. Recently, an Italian publisher released a bilingual edition of her book length poem “I Want to Undie You.” North Carolina-based Soul City Sounds released an audio recording of the poem in June 2021.
- I Want to Undie You (Jacar Press, 2017)
- Feeding the Light (Jacar Press, 2014)
- Breath of the Song: New and Selected Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 2005)
- singing a tree into dance (Carolina Wren Press, 2003)
- Conjure Blues: poems (Carolina Wren Press, 1996)
- Dead on Arrival (reissue, Carolina Wren Press, 1996)
- Swiss Time (Mud Puppy Press, 1990)
- Dead on Arrival and New Poems (Carolina Wren Press, 1983)
- Mask (Carolina Wren Press, 1981)
Co-editor (with Timothy F. Crowley)
- Immigration Emigration Diversity, an Anthology (Chapel Hill Press, Inc., 2005)
- Poets for Peace, a Collection (Chapel Hill Press, 2002)
- Blue Opal, 1994
- The River Speaks of Thirst (Soul City Sounds, 2020)