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Arts & Culture

Charlotte names its first poet laureate: Jay Ward

Jay_Ward.jpg
Courtesy Jay Ward
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The city of Charlotte on Tuesday named Jay Ward as its inaugural poet laureate.

For the first time ever, Charlotte has a poet laureate. Local slam poet and performer Jay Ward will step into the role after winning support from a committee of city staff and other cultural leaders.

His hiring was announced Tuesday night at an event hosted by Blumenthal Performing Arts, Let The Laureate Tell It, which also featured poet laureates from elsewhere in the country.

Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles was unable to attend the event in person, but sent a letter that was read to the audience that said she was "joining in the celebration of this significant moment for our city" and that the city was "fortunate to now have a signature poet."

Ward is known among Charlotte's literati as an accomplished slam poet who has written and performed pieces on gentrification, police killings and life as an African American.

At one 2020 performance in Saint Louis, Ward dedicated his poem "Bees" to "the Black boy who was shot in front of Burger King in Charlotte" — a reference to Danquirs Franklin, who was shot by a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer in March 2020.

In another poem, "Gentrification," Ward makes direct mention of Charlotte's Brookhill Village — one of the few remaining low-rent developments near South End that city leaders have been trying to preserve as affordable housing.

Ward has also published a book of poems titled "Sing Me A Lesser Wound" and is a National Poetry Slam champion and Individual World Poetry Slam champion, according to his website.

Another local poet and performer, Boris "Bluz" Rogers, described Ward's poetry as "humanistic" and "always with a touch of rhythm and hip-hop and a keen sense of societal issues." As director of creative engagement for Blumenthal Performing Arts, Rogers helped lobby the city over the past year to create a poet laureate position.

According to Rogers, Ward was picked by a committee of city staff and local arts leaders from a pool of five local finalists who were asked to submit ideas on what they would do as the city's inaugural poet laureate.

Some of Ward's ideas included developing new programs and civic events with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library.

Finalists were also assessed on literary experience, advocacy to the arts and their ability to fulfill ambassadorial duties.

Ward will hold the post for two years and will be paid a stipend by the city. A city spokesperson could not immediately say how much he would be paid.

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