March 16, 2018

An Open Letter to the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities

Dear Director Espinoza, Commissioners and DCCAH Staff

In the wake of the passing of our long tenured and highly respected Poet Laureate Dolores Kendrick, many in the poetry and writing community have wondered about the process by which her successor will be selected.

The Washington Post’s assessment of Kendrick, that she was “little known outside of Washington and the classrooms of Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire” belies both her legacy and the stature of the Washington, D.C. literary community. The significance of Washington, D.C. as an incubator and champion of poetry’s power is rooted in a deep history of publishing, performing, archiving and engagement, and its stature has grown considerably during the years of Ms. Kendrick’s term as Poet Laureate.

This dynamic and diverse D.C. poetry community (represented by the undersigned) that next Poet Laureate will inherit would like to know who is overseeing the selection process for that individual and what community outreach has or will be done as a part of that process. The current nomination and selection process does not appear to be publicly articulated. We ask, in the interest of transparency, that it be made public. And if there is a panel to be formed, we strongly advocate that a significant portion of the panel, if not half of the members, be selected from the D.C. poetry community—fully utilizing the existing wealth of knowledge regarding the District’s poetry history. In addition, many believe it would be worthwhile to reconsider the nature of the appointment (tenure, expectations and accessible resources) to assure that it effectively and fairly represents the dynamism and inclusivity of our community and the District at large.

So many of the poets in this community are organizers and activists, and thus we know that more important than institutions or titles is the community’s buy-in and support of initiatives. We thank the D.C. government for keeping the position of Poet Laureate active, and—in our gratitude—we would like to make available our insights and plethora of experiences to assure that the nation’s capital has one of America’s most vibrant Poet Laureateships.

Please contact professor Kyle Dargan of American University for further discussion of how to facilitate future dialogue with D.C. poetry community members on this matter.


Kyle G. Dargan, Ward 7
DCCAH Individual Artist Fellow
Associate Professor of Literature
Asst. Director of Creative Writing
American University

Silvana Straw, Ward 3
DCCAH Larry Neal Award winner & Individual Artist Fellow

Sandra Beasley, Ward 6
Literary Programming Coordinator, Arts Club of Washington
Three-time DCCAH Individual Artist Fellow

Topher Kandik, Washington, D.C.
SEED Public Charter School
2016 D.C. Teacher of the Year

Kim Roberts, Ward 4
DCCAH Individual Artist Fellow
Founder & Editor of Beltway Poetry Quarterly
Editor Full Moon on K Street: Poems About Washington, DC

Dan Vera, Ward 5
Board Co-chair, Split This Rock Foundation

Regie Cabico, Ward 1
Poet Educator, Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

Susan Scheid, Washington, D.C.
Board Co-chair, Split This Rock Foundation

Melanie Henderson, Ward 5
Poet & Founding Member of Tidal Basin Press
4th Generation Washingtonian

Natalie Illum, Ward 1
Founding board member, mothertongue
2013 Beltway Grand Slam Champion

Margaux Delotte-Bennett, Ward 5
2010 Larry Neal Poetry Finalist

Jonathan B. Tucker, Ward 5
DCCAH grantee and fellowship artist
Poet, Teaching Artist, Arts Organizer

Alicia Gregory, Ward 1
Poet & Arts Administrator

Myra Sklarew, Bethesda, MD
Emerita Faculty & MFA Program Founder
American University

Derrick Weston Brown
Adjunct Professor of English Prince George's Community College
Inaugural Poet-In-Residence of Busboys and Poets (2005-2015)

Reginald Dwayne Betts, New Haven, CT
Former educator at Hart Middle School and Ballou Senior High School

Carolyn Forché, Bethesda, MD
Professor, Georgetown University

Sunil Freeman, Chevy Chase, MD
Former Assistant Director, The Writer’s Center

Bridget Warren, University Park, MD
Longtime owner of Vertigo Books and literary programmer

Abdul Ali
Lecturer, Department of English
Howard University

Alan King, Bowie, MD
Former Teacher at Duke Ellington School of the Arts

Heather Davis, Front Royal, VA
Poet and returning D.C. resident

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