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Award-Winning Poet Named Michigan’s Poet Laureate

LANSING – The Library of Michigan is pleased to announce the selection of award-winning poet Nandi Comer as the Michigan Poet Laureate.

As the Michigan Poet Laureate, Comer will meet with students, teachers, and residents across the state in schools and libraries to promote poetry, spoken word, and literary arts.

Over the years, Comer has been dedicated to youth development by serving as a writer-in-residence in Detroit Public Schools Community District and community centers. She has also worked in collaboration with organizations, including YArts and InsideOut Literary Arts Projects. Ms. Comer served as a curriculum developer and youth curriculum consultant for various arts organizations and in 2018 received the William Wiggins Award for Outstanding Teaching at Indiana University.

“We’re excited about Nandi Comer’s experience working with schoolchildren and the potential for Ms. Comer to excite young people not simply about the reading of poetry, but the writing of poetry and literacy more broadly,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “This is a tremendous opportunity for us to expand our literacy efforts with and through poetry, and with and through an award-winning public poet.”

Comer’s poems and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Callaloo, Crab Orchard Review, The Journal of Pan African Studies, Sycamore Review, and Third Coast. She is the author of American Family: Syndrome (Finishing Line Press) and Tapping Out (Northwestern University Press), which was awarded the 2020 Society of Midland Authors Award and the 2020 Julie Suk Award.

“Michigan has such a rich legacy of poetry,” Comer said. “Poets like Robert Hayden, who served as the first Consultant in Poetry of the Library of Congress; Pulitzer Prize-winning Tyehimba Jess; and the fierce, award-winning Carolyn Forché have transformed the field by reimagining what is possible in writing. The list is vast and diverse. I am thrilled for this opportunity to celebrate the joy and power of poetry in our beautiful state.”

Choosing a poet laureate who has had experience working with younger people in a classroom or library setting to use poetry to expand children's vision of expressing words was the driving criterion for the selection committee comprised of literary professionals, academics, teachers, and librarians assembled by the Library of Michigan.

“Not only is Nandi Comer a gifted poet, but she is also active on a national and international level sharing her work at venues in other countries as well as bringing poets from countries like Mexico and Zimbabwe to Michigan,” said Dr. Esperanza Cintron, an English and Humanities instructor at Wayne County Community College District and member of the Michigan Poet Laureate selection committee.

“She has taught poetry workshops in diverse communities and curated readings throughout the state. Nandi's work has a vividly memorable energy. Hers is a searingly representative voice of our flourishing state. She is an outstanding representative for art and its possibilities in Michigan.”

“Nandi Comer’s poems enter my consciousness as linguistic power, offering gut-punch narratives and bold image-making,” said Anne-Marie Oomen, instructor of creative writing at the Interlochen Arts Academy and a member of the selection committee. “Her poems are full of mind-defiance grappling an opponent to the mat. She zings readers with language that calls us to the ring to chant the praises of wrestlers who wear masks that sparkle with linguistic fierceness—read: Tapped Out. Their pain becomes ours. She has a voice clear and sharp, invigorating and challenging. There is no other American exuberance quite like hers.”

"The Library of Michigan is honored to welcome the return of the Michigan Poet Laureate," said State Librarian Randy Riley. "Nandi Comer brings a strong and talented voice that explores a wide range of universal themes that showcase our individual and shared experiences as Michiganders.”

Raised in Detroit and a graduate of Communications and Media Arts High School in Detroit, Comer received bachelor’s degrees in English and in Spanish with an emphasis on Latin American Culture from the University of Michigan. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Callaloo, and a translation fellowship by U.S. Poets in Mexico. 

Comer’s writing received the Vera Myer Strube Award in poetry. Comer is the winner of Crab Orchard Review’s 2014 Richard Peterson Poetry Prize. In 2016, she completed a master’s degree in African American Literature from the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies and a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in Poetry from the English Department at Indiana University. She is a 2019 Kresge Literary Arts Fellow.

Comer is currently the director of Allied Media Projects Seeds Program and the co-director of Detroit Lit, a program dedicated to providing reading and professional development opportunities to narrative makers of color in Detroit.

Prior to Comer’s selection, Michigan had only appointed one other state poet laureate. Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959) was named Poet Laureate through Senate Concurrent Resolution No. 38 (1952) of the Michigan Legislature.

Guest held the title of Poet Laureate of the state of Michigan from 1952 until his death in 1959. Will Carleton (1847-1912) is sometimes referred to as the first Poet Laureate of Michigan. Public Act 51 of 1919 designated October 21 of each year as "Carleton Day" in memory of "Michigan's pioneer poet." However, "Carleton Day" was a commemorative school holiday in honor of Carleton as opposed to an appointed poet laureate title. "Carleton Day" was removed as a school holiday in 1995 as directed by Public Act 289 during a revision of the state of Michigan's school code.