Philly’s poet laureate awarded $50,000

Airea D. Matthews will use the money to put poetry written by local writers who have experienced violence onto public billboards.

Airea D. Matthews poses for a photo outside

Airea D. Matthews is the 2022-2023 Poet laureate of The City of Philadelphia. (Courtesy of Wes Matthews)

Philadelphia’s poet laureate, Airea D. Matthews, has been awarded $50,000 by the Academy of American Poets. The funds will be used to launch poetry programs in the city as part of Matthews’ two-year position.

Matthews, who earned a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Pennsylvania before turning to poetry, teaches creative writing at Bryn Mawr College. She was named poet laureate in January 2022.

The $50,000 is part of a distribution of $1.1 million to 22 poets laureate across the country. Since 2019 the Academy of American Poets has supported poet laureate positions in cities and states, by giving laureates money for projects.

The last three laureates from Philadelphia — Raquel Salas Rivera, Trapeta Mayson, and Airea D. Matthews — have all received the award.

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The Academy also helps cities and states establish poet laureate positions. All but five states have state poet laureate positions (Pennsylvania and New Jersey do not). Of the 35 larger American cities with populations of more than 500,000, 16 have poets laureate. Philadelphia’s poet laureate program is administered by the Philadelphia Free Library and comes with a $5,000 stipend.

Matthews has said she is creating two programs during her tenure: a speaker’s bureau that will match writers with reading opportunities, and a partnership between the Free Library, the arts-presenting organization Philadelphia Contemporary, and Lamar Advertising that will put poetry by Philadelphia writers on billboards.

To be called “Re/Vision,” the billboards will feature writers who have been affected personally by violence. According to a statement by the Academy, the billboard campaign should begin in late 2022 or early 2023.

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