Academy of American Poets Awarded WeHo Poet Laureate, Brian Sonia-Wallace $50K

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Brian Sonia-Wallace - Facebook screen grab

Brian Sonia-Wallace, Poet Laureate of West Hollywood, was recently awarded $50,000 by The Academy of American Poets. With the support from the Mellon Foundation, The Academy of American Poets will fund 23 individuals who serve as Poets Laureate of states and cities across the U.S. These poets will lead public poetry programs in their respective communities in the year ahead. The Fellows will each receive $50,000 (or $25,000 each in the case of the shared Poet Laureate position in Montana) for a combined total of $1.1 million. In addition, the Academy will provide over $100,000 total to 14 local 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations that have agreed to support the Fellows’ proposed projects.

“As we begin emerging from COVID-19 restrictions, poetry, which has provided such comfort these past fifteen months, will continue to be a source of insight. We are honored and humbled to fund poets who are devoted to their own craft and also their community. Poets will most certainly help guide us forward,” said Jennifer Benka, President and Executive Director of the Academy of American Poets.

“The award will support my writing and LGBTQ+ literary organizing work over the next year with the City of West Hollywood & WeHo Arts, plus an additional $10K for my community partners at APLA Health where I’ll be working with folks in the HIV+ community to share their stories through writing,” wrote Sonia-Wallace on his Facebook timeline announcing his award, “7 years ago when I got laid off from my job and became a street poet (for what I thought was going to be a month!) I would never have dreamed of this level of institutional support. Now the work begins – to share the cunning of my raggamuffin practice with the big dogs, and to level up my own practice to be able to play in their sandbox.”

Brian Sonia-Wallace was born in St. Louis, Missouri and raised in Culver City, California, and Santiago, Chile. He is a social practice poet whose work straddles the line between literature and community engagement. Brian has written poems for over 10,000 strangers across the country based on their stories since 2012, and is the author of the poetic travel memoir The Poetry of Strangers (HarperCollins, 2020). In collaboration with APLA Health, Sonia-Wallace will expand his Pride Poets project from a small ensemble, which has created custom poems for the public at Pride celebrations for the past two years, to a year-round platform for the LGBTQIA+ literary community. This includes a slate of digital writing workshops, community events, advocacy work, and youth projects that will cater to different sub-communities and foster connections, virtually in quarantine and beyond, within and between intersecting LGBTQIA+ identities.

Through its Poets Laureate Fellowship program, the Academy has become the largest financial supporter of poets in the nation. The fellowship program is made possible by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which, in January of 2020, awarded the Academy $4.5 million to fund the program.

To learn more, visit https://poets.org.

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