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Inaugural Roxbury Poetry Festival slated for June 5

Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
Inaugural Roxbury Poetry Festival slated for June 5
Porsha Olayiwola, City of Boston Poet Laureate. PHOTO: CARLIE FEBO

Registration is now open for the inaugural Roxbury Poetry Festival, running virtually and in person Saturday, June 5 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Headlined by keynote speaker and 2020 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Jericho Brown, the festival features writers, panelists and curators in conversation. Poets of all ages and styles will come together at the festival to celebrate the powerful medium.

“I am beyond excited for the exchange of craft between national and local poets,” says Porsha Olayiwola, the city of Boston’s poet laureate. “The goal is to provide folks with resources and a space to gather that fosters growth for all writers. It is especially important to me to be doing work within the cultural context and lineage of Roxbury.”

After Brown’s afternoon keynote address comes the Publisher’s Poetry Slam, sponsored by Button Poetry and hosted by poet and equity educator Harlym 125. More than just entertainment, the Slam results in a book contract for a local writer.

The day’s final event, Beast the Beat, showcases the overlap between poetry and hip-hop with a concert battle. Though highlighting writers nationally, the festival is very much of and for Boston. Boston Youth Poet Laureate finalist Asiyah Herrera will moderate a conversation with poet Safia Elhillo; youth poets published in 826 Boston’s Poetry Anthology will give readings; and Roxbury native Tatiana Johnson-Boria will lead a writing workshop.

As part of the festival preparations, Olayiwola and Boston’s Youth Poet Laureate Alondra Bobadilla put out a call for “Poems of Roxbury.” Two local writers, Rashawnda Willams and Durane West, received a monetary prize for their submissions and the opportunity to perform at Northeastern University’s Writer’s Week. In “Roxbury Love,” Williams delves into the rich cultural history of the neighborhood, and West’s winning piece describes the experience of walking through Roxbury as a young “black boy born on Magnolia.”

The majority of events will be held online in accordance with COVID-19 public health guidelines. If deemed safe by those guidelines, a small number of events will be held in person with limited capacity and social distancing. The festival is free and open to the public.

“As a fourth-generation Roxbury resident, it is so exciting to see the celebration of the power of poetry come to this neighborhood,” says acting Mayor Kim Janey. “I look forward to seeing Boston honor its legendary and up-and-coming poets, as well as foster creative expression among community members. As we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic, the arts are an important part of our recovery.”