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Online Campaign Launched To Nominate First Black Woman Kentucky Poet Laureate

Drake, Whitehead, Jones

Nominations for the state’s next poet laureate close on October 1st — and for most Kentuckians, it’s probably not a deadline they’re thinking too much about.

But earlier this week, a campaign led by “outlaw poet” Ron Whitehead and Ricky Jones, the chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville, was launched online to nominate poet Hannah Drake as the next pick.

The social media post, which has been shared hundreds of times, is requesting letters which will be included in the nomination packet.

A representative from the Kentucky Arts Council, which reviews nominations, said applicants are judged on how their previous work is informed by Kentucky, as well as their ability to promote Kentucky through future work.

According to Drake, she would bring something different to the exploration of Kentucky as a state.

“I always explore race, sexism, feminism, politics,” Drake said. “I’m very interested in the history of Kentucky that is at times tried to remain neutral, in very deep issues in this country. And I think there are many issues that Kentucky needs to face, especially for where we are trying to go.”

If chosen, Drake would be the first black woman to serve as Kentucky Poet Laureate; Frank X Walker was the first person of color to serve in the position. U of L professor Ricky Jones says it’s time to hear from those voices more:

“If you don’t have people of color, women of color, women overall — where people understand who they are, what they do, what their contributions are,they will never be honored,” Jones said. “Two, they will never be elevated. Three, those things won’t happen because they will never be known.”

Whitehead said: “I hate politics, but I’m not naive. I stand up and speak out.”

Whitehead, as well as Drake and Jones, have been publicly critical of some of Governor Matt Bevin’s decisions. Bevin will ultimately present the honor of poet laureate.

Whitehead said that’s one of the reasons he wanted to make this nomination process as public as possible — so it wouldn’t get swept under the rug.

“If we make this public enough, there’s enough support, a groundswell of support, [we can] persuade the Kentucky Arts Council that Hannah’s the right person,” Whitehead said.