Meet the Poetry Palooza! poets
We are honored to welcome four Midwest poets laureate and more local renowned poets to the 2023 Poetry Palooza! lineup. These poets will lead workshops, perform, and talk with us all weekend about all things poetry.
Iowa Poet Laureate
Debra Marquart is the author of seven books and the Senior Editor of Flyaway: Journal of Writing & Environment. The Poet Laureate of Iowa and a distinguished professor at Iowa State University, Marquart teaches in ISU's MFA in Creative Writing and Environment and in the Stonecoast Low-Residency MFA Program at the University of Southern Maine. Marquart's work has been featured on NPR and the BBC and has received over 50 grants and awards, including an NEA Fellowship, a PEN USA Award, a New York Time's Editors' Choice commendation, and Elle Magazine's Elle Lettres Award. Her most recent book, The Night We Landed on the Moon: Essays Between Exile & Belonging, was published in 2021, and her newest poetry collection, Gratitude with Dogs Under Stars, is forthcoming in 2022. For more information visit debramarquart.com.
Nebraska Poet Laureate
Matt Mason is the Nebraska State Poet Laureate and was Executive Director of the Nebraska Writers Collective from 2009-2022. Through the U.S. State Department, he has run workshops in Botswana, Romania, Nepal, and Belarus. Mason is the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets and the Nebraska Arts Council. His work can be found in The New York Times, on NPR's Morning Edition, in American Life in Poetry, and more. Mason's fourth book, At the Corner of Fantasy and Main: Disneyland, Midlife and Churros, was released by The Old Mill Press in 2022. Matt is based out of Omaha wit his wife, the poet Sarah McKinstry-Brown, and daughters Sophia and Lucia. Find more at matt.midverse.com.
Kansas Poet Laureate
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, the 2009-2013 Kansas Poet Laureate, is the author of 24 books, including How Time Moves: New & Selected Poems; Miriam's Well, a novel; Needle in the Bone, a non-fiction book on the Holocaust; The Sky Begins At Your Feet: A Memoir on Cancer, Community, and Coming Home to the Body. Founder of Transformative Language Arts, she is a beloved writing workshop facilitator and writing and Right Livelihood coach. She loves life-giving collaborations: she offers YourRightLivelihood.com with Kathryn Lorenzen, BraveVoice.com with Kelley Hunt, and TheArtOfFacilitation.net with Joy Roulier Sawyer. She offers weekly "Care Packages for a Creative Life" through her Patreaon page. Find more about her, including her blog, "Everyday Magic," at CarynMirriamGoldberg.com.
South Dakota Poet Laureate
Christine Stewart-Nunez is the author of seven books of poetry, most recently The Poet & The Architect, Untrussed and Bluewords Greening, winner of the 2018 Whirling Prize. She served as South Dakota Poet Laureate from 2019-2021. She's written several award-winning essays and co-edited two books that feature both literary and scholarly contributions on their subject matter: Scholars and Poets Talk About Queens and Action, Influence, Voice: Contemporary South Dakota Women. In the fall of 2020, she released South Dakota in Poems, an anthology of contemporary poems by South Dakotans. She's the founder of the Women Poets Collective, a regional group focused on advancing their writing through peer critique and support. In August 2021, Christine and her family moved to Winnipeg, where she and her husband, Brian Rex, took up professorships and the University of Manitoba. Find more at ChristineStewartNunez.com.
Iowa State Representative
As a national & international Motivational Speaker, Activist, Author, Photographer, Business Owner and Counselor, Ako Abdul-Samad has impacted the lives of thousands of individuals and families for over five decades. After being expelled from two high schools for standing up against injustice, racism and discrimination he joined the local chapter of the Black Panther Party and helped to develop their free breakfast program, which launched his lifelong pursuit of social justice. He is currently serving his ninth term in the Iowa House of Representatives making him the longest serving Black Iowan in the state legislature. He also helped form Iowa’s first Legislative Black Caucus. Throughout his years of service, he has sponsored and co-sponsored several legislative bills that have led to systemic change for minorities and all citizens of Iowa. He was co sponsor and an integral part, working across the aisle to get Iowa’s historic bi-partisan “More Perfect Union” legislation passed unanimously in a record two weeks’ time. Ako was also elected and served on the Des Moines School Board for three years and held the office of Vice President.
He founded Creative Visions Human Development Institute in 1996 in Des Moines, Iowa, a non-profit organization that has been providing food, resources, guidance for at risk youth and violence intervention for over 26 years. Serving as CEO, Ako has established and directed business functions that include Employment Assistance, Support Services, Healthcare Management, Community Development and Advocacy. His “From Pain 2 Power” consulting firm specializes in education and training in the areas of culture & diversity, intersectionality, inclusion, law enforcement and community engagement.
Rep. Abdul-Samad’s political and community activism has garnered him a number of awards over the years from various agencies including the National Association of Social Workers, The Filipino American Society and the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. He is a recipient of the Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice given by the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame. He also received the “Defending Democracy” Award given by the Iowa League of Women Voters. In addition, he was recently given the illustrious honor of being recognized as one of DSM magazines “Sages over 70”.
Among his proudest achievements is co-founding the ISU 4U Promise program in which Iowa State University adopted the two elementary schools in his district and provides scholarships to its students to obtain a 4-year degree. Abdul-Samad is the author of poetry collection “A Deeper Truth: Revelations of the Soul”. He is currently working on his second book. He is often called upon by journalists and community leaders for guidance and context in matters involving racism, injustice or the death of a community member. He continues to fight for justice at the state House as well as in the community.
We are honoring the work of James A. Autry as one of the founders of the original Poetry Festival.
Autry is a former Fortune 500 executive, who is also an author, poet and business coach. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife, Sally, and their son, Ronald. Additionally, he has two other sons, Jim and Rick, and two grandsons, Eric and Brian.
Autry has authored 15 books. His most recent publication is also his first foray into children's literature. Everyday Virtues: Classic Tales to Read with Kids is his first father/son collaboration, co-authored by his son, Rick. Autry's previous publications include books on servant leadership, gratitude, and business poetry (among other topics).
Read more about Autry at jamesaautry.com.
Akwi is an artist creating in words, voice, and visual art. She specializes in creative personal narrative storytelling across artistic mediums and through producing and curating community-focused arts programming. Her work and words have appeared on stage from California's Wine Country to New York's Fashion Week.
She is owner of Threshold Gallery, an artist-run gallery and micro venue with a mission to support women artists and artists of color in the Midwest; creator of The Remoir Project, a nationwide audio and visual storytelling arts initiative; and a champion of the artist and the arts through her role as producer of multi-media arts events in the Midwest.
Akwi has served as an arts ambassador in multiple roles including as founding executive director of The Hook, an Iowa Arts Council board member, producer of nearly 100 events in recent years, involving more than 300 writers and performers; and advisor of Arts Midwest initiatives.
Her art serves as manifestations of her exploration of race, gender, Black history as American history, and a parallelism of current social issues with their historical and cultural counterparts, tensions between the 'outsider' and 'insider', and concepts of spiritual and geographic home. As a writer, voice artist, performer, and producer her collaborative partners include Emmy-award winning composers and nationally-renowned dancers and choreographers. She has been an Iowa Arts Council Fellow and, for her efforts in the business community, she was named one of Corridor Business Journal’s Forty Under 40.
Akwi was born in Iowa City, Iowa, and raised in Cameroon, Africa. Her experiences as a Cameroonian and Cameroonian American inform her work as artist and advocate. She lives in the Midwest with her two daughters, the family dog, and her daughters' cats.
Caleb "The Negro Artist" Rainey
Caleb “The Negro Artist” Rainey is an author, performer, and producer. He hails from Columbia, Missouri, and holds a B.A. in English (Creative Writing) from the University of Iowa. His debut book, Look, Black Boy, became Amazon’s #1 new release in African American poetry, and was awarded first prize in the North Street Book Prize. His second book, Heart Notes was published in 2019. He has been named Best Poet/Spoken Word Performer in Cedar Rapids & Iowa City from 2020-2022. In 2021, he converted the poems from his first book to create his first spoken word album, Look, Black Boy. He co-founded the literary magazine Black Art; Real Stories, was published in Iowa's Best Emerging Poets - 2019, the Little Village Magazine, and wrote a monthly column for The Real Mainstream.
As a performer he is the winner of multiple poetry slams across the country, as well as a finalist for the UNESCO City of Literature Global Poetry Slam – Iowa City. He has taken the stage in countless cities, including Kansas City, Baltimore, Washington DC, Denver, Houston, Chicago, New York City, and even internationally in London, England. He was also featured on Button Poetry and Write About Now. Outside of poetry, Caleb acted in a number of plays, some of which include "Blood at the Root," "I and You," and the Iowa debuts "Exit Strategy" and "Luna Gale."
When he is not writing and performing he is actively curating a community of spoken word poets in Iowa City through his creation of a high school program, IC Speaks, and producing local events like the Mic Check Poetry Festival.
Read why Caleb is a 2023 Person to Watch from the Iowa City Press Citizen.