Earlier this week, it was announced that Gov. Ralph Northam appointed Filipino-American Luisa Igloria as poet laureate of the US state of Virginia. The immigrant from Baguio, who was picked from a shortlist provided by the Poetry Society of Virginia, was accorded the title in a July 29 virtual ceremony along with other appointees.
“Sworn in today as Poet Laureate of VA by Secretary of the Commonwealth @Kelly_Thomasson w/ VA First Lady Pamela Northam. Looking forward to the next 2 years & hoping to work w others in centering creativity & poetry as forms of civic engagement,” reads a tweet she posted of the occasion.
At the ceremony, Henry Hart, the outgoing poet laureate spoke of his turn at the position, which was established in 1936. Igloria, who will carry the title until 2022, shared lines from the official appointment letter on her site that speak of the responsibilities of the post. “Governor Northam is focused on building a Commonwealth that works better for all people, no matter who they are or where they live. During your term, you will assist the Governor in solving real problems real people face,” it reads.
The Filipina-American shares in an Asian Journal article that she is planning to organize programs, workshops, panels, and poetry events in her tenure. Poetry and creativity, she feels “are more important than ever during this time, and necessary for our survival because the cornerstone of poetry—of all the arts, really—is the condition of empathy.”
After graduating cum laude with a degree in humanities from the University of the Philippines campus in her Baguio hometown, Igloria took further studies at Ateneo de Manila. She then earned her Ph.D. in English/Creative Writing at the University of Illinois in Chicago, where she attended as a Fulbright fellow. The mid to late 90s saw her working with the Filipino-American cultural and theater group PINTIG, and was also a Visiting Humanities Scholar at the Center for Philippine Studies at the University of Hawaii. In Virginia, the tenured professor served as the director of the MFA Creative Writing Program of Norfolk-based Old Dominium University. Back in Manila, Igloria also had a brief stint as the Graduate Programs Coordinator and Senior Associate for Poetry at the Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center at De La Salle University.
The poet is critically-acclaimed and multi-awarded. She won the Carlos Palanca Awards for Literature 11 times, five of which were first prizes. (Igloria was actually inducted into the Palanca hall of fame in 1996.) She also has fellowships and awards from different parts of the globe and distinguished institutions, including the University of Alabama, the Chicago Bar Association; the George Kent Prize for Poetry, the Resurgence Prize for Ecopoetry in the UK, the Utah State University Press, the University of Notre Dame Press, the Bellingham Review, the James Hearst Poetry Prize, the National Writers Union Poetry Prize, the Stephen Dunn Award for Poetry; the first Sylvia Clare Brown Fellowship, the Richard Lemon Poetry Fellowship, the Fugue poetry contest, the Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg; and the 1998 George Kent Award for Poetry. Some of her poetry may be found in this Poetry Foundation page.
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Igloria, who is a mother of four daughters, has published 14 books and three chapbooks. Later in the year, she will be releasing Maps for Migrants and Ghosts under the Southern Illinois University Press, the manuscript of which is a co-winner at the Crab Orchard Poetry Open. Her works often speak of her immigrant experiences, and how that relates to finding a sense of self. “The poems in this book look at the selves we used to be before we traveled to where we are now, before we became who we (think/feel) we are now,” she tells the Asian Journal. “We think we leave others behind when we leave a country; we also leave ourselves behind. I had to write this book in part to make my way back to that abandoned self, though she has also changed.”
In some ways, that mindset of exploring feelings and perspectives will serve Igloria well in her stint as poet laureate. With many struggling with the disasters that have recently befallen us, we imagine not a few Virginians, like the rest of the world, are displaced, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Her different point-of-view—coupled with a workhorse ethic (she is writing at least one poem a day for a project) might be an anchor for someone out there. As the last line in her short piece “Wanderer” goes: “I have never left. I am still here.”
Photo from Luisa A. Igloria’s Facebook page