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City of Worcester Announces Poet Laureate, Youth Poet Laureate

For Immediate Release: 12/24/2019 9:35 am

City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr., Mayor Joseph M. Petty, the Worcester City Council and the Office of Cultural Development have announced the appointments of the City of Worcester Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate.

The Poet Laureate and Youth Poet Laureate will serve as official ambassadors of the City’s historic and vibrant cultures of poetry and literature, using their positions to promote local writers and the transformative qualities of poetry and the written word.

Distinguished poet, community activist, and long-time educator Juan Matos has been selected as Worcester’s next Poet Laureate, to serve from January 2020 until December 2022. Amina Mohammed, a senior at Holy Name High School, will become the first Youth Poet Laureate in Worcester as well as the first in the state of Massachusetts. Mohammed will serve from January 2020 through December 2021.

Matos and Mohammed will be presented with ceremonial medals created by local metal artist Pam Farren and will deliver their first official readings at the City’s Inaugural Exercises and Celebration on Thursday, January 2, 2020, at 5:30 p.m. at Mechanics Hall.

“I am honored to be able to serve as Worcester’s Mayor for another term. To share the moment with not one, but two people who will actively contribute to and commemorate the Worcester community makes it even more special,” said Mayor Petty.

“Congratulations to both Juan and Amina, who stood out from a very talented field of applicants,” said City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. “We are especially thrilled to have the City provide a unique opportunity for a young person to express themselves as our Youth Poet Laureate. We look forward to Amina’s voice, presence, and vision, serving as a source of inspiration for her peers to pursue creative endeavors and share their own perspectives.”

Juan Matos says poetry has always been an essential part of his life and sharing poetry is among his greatest joys. “Sharing builds bridges among generations,” he wrote after learning of his selection. “Such an important program is about more than achieving recognition; it is about celebrating poetry in the light of itself.”

Matos earned a Master’s Degree in bilingual education at Worcester State University and went on to teach Spanish Literature and ESL for 32 years, the last 22 of which in Worcester Public Schools. During this time he wrote and published 12 poetry books and anthologies, took part in local and international literary festivals, and founded several literary groups and workshops. Matos has a long record of actively advocating for poetry and the arts, and in 2019 alone was awarded a Key to the City of Worcester, the Worcester Latino Dollar for Scholars Vision Award, an Honorable Citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives, and the Father Miguel Bafaro Legacy Award. Other honors he has received include the Casa Cultural Dominicana de Worcester Leadership Award, a Recognition for Work in the Arts and Literature from the Rhode Island House of Representatives, and his home city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic recognized Matos as a Distinguished Son for Contributions to Literature.

Of Matos’ appointment, Cultural Development Officer Erin Williams noted that he has, “contributed significantly to the Worcester community and simultaneously gained notoriety outside the city. We’re delighted to be working with a visionary poet who embraces language and has dedicated his life to creative expression for all.”

Youth Poet Laureate Amina Mohammed grew up in Worcester’s Main South neighborhood, the daughter of an immigrant family. Her parents worked long hours to provide her and her siblings with considerable support from neighbors. “They truly showed us what community was all about,” Mohammed wrote in a personal statement. “Growing up in areas like Main South and Vernon Hill created a window for false perceptions formed about […] kids just like me. It was a constant reminder that we might never amount to anything, that kids like us are just going to end up like the rest, and that we might never break the cycle that we became products of,” said the young woman, the first Youth Poet Laureate in Massachusetts.

In addition to their shared objectives, which include public readings and creating original works, Matos’ three decades as an educator will help him serve as a mentor to Mohammed. “Young people are my greatest love,” Matos said. “I am committed to continue the cultural activism that has allowed me to inspire many young people not only in the classroom as a teacher, but as a devoted and committed writer in our city.”

The objectives of the City of Worcester’s Poet Laureate Programs are to:

  • Enhance the presence and appreciation of poetry and literary arts in Greater Worcester;
  • Celebrate the spirit of the people and special qualities of Worcester, the City of Innovation;
  • Raise awareness of the power of literature, poetry, and the spoken word;
  • Provide a forum for collaborative art forms;
  • Engage and support an emerging generation of poets and spoken word artists;
  • Provide access to poetry and literary arts to all sectors of the community; and
  • Encourage the reading and writing of both poetry and the written word.

Matos says he is eager to, “bring my experience as a community organizer and activist to promote activities that allow youth and adults to embrace poetry and literature as part of their cultural and spiritual growth. I am planning to improve the presence of authors in schools by creating and incorporating writing workshops.”

In her two year term as Worcester’s Youth Poet Laureate, Mohammed says, “I intend to prove that life is what one makes of it and that those whom society frowns upon tend to be the ones with powerful voices, positively making a change in their communities. I want to show that, no matter what, one can take their struggles and pains and turn them into masterpieces.”

A five person committee was formed to review dozens of applications to the Poet Laureate programs:

  • Alex Charalambides: Worcester-based poet, 2011 Worcester Arts Council Fellow, and Executive Director of Mass LEAP;
  • Christina Connolly: adult services librarian, Worcester Public Library social services liaison and steward of its literature and poetry collection.
  • Sandra Paola Cadena Pardo: scholar and visiting professor of Spanish at Holy Cross, published author of two poetry books, essay books, and the play Cuando Perros Tienen Alas.
  • Christopher Reilley: former Poet Laureate of Dedham, MA, two-time Pushcart nominee, founder of Dedham Poet Society and Leicester Writers Guild, published author of three poetry books.
  • Heather Treseler: associate professor of English and Presidential Fellow for Art, Education, and Community at Worcester State University, author of essays and poems appearing in numerous periodicals and publications.

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