Lesbian Writer Eloise Klein Healy Named First Poet Laureate of Los Angeles
BY Daniel Reynolds
December 07 2012 5:32 AM ET
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa named lesbian writer Eloise Klein Healy today as the first poet laureate of Los Angeles.
The newly appointed Poet Laureate has been a Los Angeles resident since she was 10 years old, and considers the city a major source of inspiration for her work. “I’m really a person who writes out of 'place,'” Healy said to The Advocate. “I’m interested in the tectonics of the place, from the ground up. The writing of a poem means you go into the underground of a poem and watch it move around. The earth works the way poetry works.”
“I don’t think of it as a city,” she added, speaking about Los Angeles. “It’s a country.”
Healy has written six collections of poetry, including Passing and Artemis in Echo Park, which were both nominated for Lambda Literary Awards. The latter publication is inspired by a Los Angeles neighborhood. She also received the Grand Prize of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival and has been honored with several Pushcart Prize nominations. Her latest book, A Wild Surmise, is forthcoming.
Healy will "serve as the official ambassador of Los Angeles’ vibrant poetry and literary culture,” according to a press release, with responsibilities that include oversight of several readings, programs, and the composition of poems dedicated to the city.
"It is wonderful to announce the new Poet Laureate position,” Poet Laureate Task Force Chair Dana Gioia said. “Los Angeles is the creative capital of the 21st century. Honoring poets and writers with this new public office is a fitting symbol for the power of the language and the imagination in our remarkable community."
A longtime educator, Healy is the Founding Chair of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Antioch University, and was the former Director of the Women's Studies Program at California State University Northridge. In addition, she is the Founding Editor of Arktoi Books, which publishes works by lesbian writers.
At an early age, Healy formed a special relationship with words. “I was a big reader,” said the poet, who recalled devouring books with her mother, even before entering kindergarten. “We didn’t have much money to spend, but we could read. It was my favorite thing. Words could take you places. I wanted to see.”
Healy discovered her poetic voice after meeting a student of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, who encouraged her to become more engaged with L.A.’s writing community. A recent college graduate at the time, she signed up for her first reading at Skylight Books, which was initially reluctant to let a greenhorn on its stage.
“You’re not going to know who I am unless you let me read,” she remembered telling the staff. They granted her request.
Throughout her teaching career, Healy made a point to come out to her students on the first day of class. “[I tell them:] I am a lesbian, and a feminist, and I’m a good teacher. So if you want to learn something, stay.”
She aspires to bring this spirit of inclusion to a greater audience in Los Angeles. “I feel that the literary output of Los Angeles has been sadly overlooked by the national press,” Healy said. “Things can be done to address some of that. I want to get poetry in places where it typically isn’t seen. A lot of people think that there’s no place for them in poetry. But I’ve taught enough to know that you can surprise people in being interested in it.”
Healy thanked the mayor, as well as the Poet Laureate Task Force that elected her as Poet Laureate, for their “courage” in selecting a lesbian writer. “It came out of the blue. I’m still a little bit shocked,” Healy stated. “I think it’s a sign that we have moved out of the shadows.”
Read three of her poems on the following pages.
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