(Anis Mojgani | Photo by Tristan Paiige)
Governor Kate Brown has named Anis Mojgani (AH-neess Mozh-GAH-nee), a two-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam and an International World Cup Poetry Slam winner, to a two-year appointment as Poet Laureate of Oregon. Mojgani succeeds Kim Stafford, who has held the post since 2018, to become Oregon’s tenth Poet Laureate.
“Anis is the pragmatic optimist Oregon needs in these unprecedented times,” said Governor Brown. “His words breathe fresh air into the anxiety and negativity that we all feel. He urges us to resolutely reflect in the moment and with each grounding breath, our hearts ‘come closer and come into this.’”
Born in New Orleans to Black and Iranian parents, Mojgani first called Oregon home in 2004. He is the author of five books of poetry including his latest, In the Pockets of Small Gods. Mojgani has also done commissioned work for the Getty Museum and the Peabody Essex Museum, and the premiere of his first opera libretto, Sanctuaries, is scheduled for April 2021. His work has appeared on HBO, National Public Radio, in the Academy of American Poets Poem-A-Day series and in the pages of such journals as Rattle, Platypus, Winter Tangerine, Forklift Ohio and Bat City Review. His performance credits include hundreds of universities across the U.S. as well as international festivals such as the Sydney Writer’s Festival, Jamaica’s Calabash festival and Seoul’s Young Writer’s Festival. His audiences range from the United Nations to the House of Blues and Portland’s Pickathon music festival.
“It’s always exciting and difficult to participate in the selection process for Oregon’s Poet Laureate,” said Adam Davis, executive director of Oregon Humanities, who administers the Poet Laureate program on behalf of the Oregon Cultural Trust. “Oregon has such deep poetry ecology, it’s challenging for the selection committee to coalesce around one candidate as their recommendation to the Governor.
“However, the collective enthusiasm for the prospect of Anis as the next Oregon Poet Laureate was exceptional,” he said. “We’re lucky to have Anis in Oregon, and we’re delighted that so many people around the state will get to know his poetry and presence better — while getting to know each other and our state better as well.”
First coming to poetry by way of visual arts, Mojgani earned a BFA in Sequential Art from the Savannah College of Art & Design in Georgia. He has been awarded artist and writer residencies from the Vermont Studio Center, AIR Serenbe, The Bloedel Nature Reserve and The Sou’wester. He has taught and mentored for Portland’s Writers-In-The-Schools, in the KSMoCA Artist Mentorship program and at Wallowa County’s Fishtrap and currently serves on the board of directors for Literary Arts. Mojgani resides in Portland.
“I believe all of us wish to be seen on some level, to be heard,” said Mojgani. “For then we get a little closer to being known and understood. The closer we get to that, the more we are able to see and understand how we belong to the world we are a part of — to belong. That is what poetry does — it gives us all the power and path to being known, both to ourselves and to others. It shows the ways in which we as humans, while carrying our aloneness, also belong and are connected to one another. The poem illuminates this collectiveness.
“And in a state I was not born in but have a belonging to, I am overjoyed and honored to find the ways to further how as Oregonians we might become more known to one another,” Mojgani added.
A 20-person committee of writers, poets and cultural leaders reviewed nominations in February and made its recommendation to the Cultural Trust and its statewide partners — Oregon Arts Commission, Oregon Historical Society, the Oregon Heritage Commission, Oregon Humanities and the State Historic Preservation Office. The Governor approved the committee’s recommendation last week.
The Oregon Poet Laureate fosters the art of poetry, encourages literacy and learning, addresses central issues relating to humanities and heritage and reflects on public life in Oregon. Mojgani will provide up to 20 public readings per year in settings across the state to inform community, business and state leaders about the value and importance of poetry and creative expression. The program is funded by the Oregon Cultural Trust.
Past Oregon Poets Laureate are: Edwin Charles Markham (1921–1940); Ben Hur Lampman (1951–1954); Ethel Romig Fuller (1957–1965); William Stafford (1974–1989); Lawson Inada (2006–2010); Paulann Petersen (2010-2014); Peter Sears (2014-2016); Elizabeth Woody (2016-2018); and Kim Stafford (2018-2020).
Mojgani will assume the Poet Laureate role on May 4. Until COVID-19 social distancing ends and public gatherings with the Poet Laureate are once again possible, he will explore online ways to connect with Oregonians.
To learn more about the Oregon Poet Laureate program, visit the Poet Laureate website.