Washington has its first Indigenous poet laureate in Rena Priest

click to enlarge Newly named Washington poet laureate Rena Priest - HUMANITIES WASHINGTON
Humanities Washington
Newly named Washington poet laureate Rena Priest

It won't be official until April 14, but Humanities Washington announced Rena Priest as the next state poet laureate, and she is a groundbreaking decision. Priest is a member of the Lhaq’temish (Lummi) Nation, and she will be the first Indigenous poet laureate for the state.

Gov. Jay Inslee made Priest's appointment official today, and her term will run April 14, 2021, through March 31, 2023. Priest will succeed Claudia Castro Luna, as well as former state poet laureates Tod Marshall (of Spokane), Elizabeth Austen, Kathleen Flenniken and Sam Green.

Priest's first book, Patriarchy Blues, won the 2018 American Book Award, and she's since published a book called Sublime Subliminal.


“I am incredibly excited and honored to take on this role,” said Priest in a statement released by Humanities Washington. “I’m fascinated by the way people come together around poetry. I am always delighted by how they gather in quiet rooms and let themselves be drawn in, lit up, and transformed by the words of other people. It’s a powerful way of connecting.”

The state poet laureate works to increase appreciation of the form through their tenure, using a variety of creative means to do so. Priest said her work will focus on shining a spotlight on poetry coming from the state's tribal communities, as well as on using poetry to increase appreciation of our natural world and the threats facing it.

“We are in an important historical moment when science has given us a deadline to make significant changes to heal our planet,” Preist said. “I want to use poetry as a tool to offer new perspectives and generate enthusiasm for the idea that we can slow and reverse the effects of ecological destruction simply by loving the Earth.”

Follow the River: Portraits of the Columbia Plateau @ Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art WSU

Mondays-Saturdays. Continues through Aug. 14
  • or

About The Author

Dan Nailen

Dan Nailen is the managing editor of the Inlander, where he oversees coverage of arts and culture. He's previously written and edited for The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City Weekly, Missoula Independent, Salt Lake Magazine, The Oregonian and KUER-FM. He grew up seeing the country in an Air Force family and studied...